Earlier this year, I mentioned what a disappointment The Girl Who Chased the Moon was compared to Garden Spells. When term finished a few weeks ago, I celebrated by going out and buying a pile of books, focusing on lighter reads to counter the tediousness of What Maisie Knew, which I am still trying to wade through. That’s when I decided to give Sarah Addison Allen another chance and bought The Sugar Queen.
Twenty-seven-year-old Josey Cirrini is the only daughter of Marco Cirrini, the wealthy and respected founder of the Bald Slope ski resort, in North Carolina. From the outside, she seems to be Fortune’s favoured child: she lives in a huge house, has a maid to attend to her every need, and can afford to spend her days doing nothing. Nobody realizes she is desperately in love with Adam, the handsome young mailman who barely acknowledges her daily greeting, or that her days are spent trying to meet the demands of an elderly and domineering mother who does not love her but will not let her go. Josey sees her life stretch before her, filled with nothing but drudgery and loneliness. Her one solace is the secret stash of sweets, romance novels, and travel brochures at the back of her bedroom closet, where she hides away and dreams of escaping Bald Slope.
Then, one frosty November morning, Josey finds somebody else hiding away in her closet: a woman called Della Lee, whose appearance does nothing to recommend her and whose reputation is even worse. Convinced Della Lee spells nothing but trouble, Josey tries hard to make her leave, but Della Lee won’t take no for an answer (or “Get out!” for that matter). Instead, from her position inside the closet, she seems intent on turning Josey’s dreary life topsy-turvy, giving unwanted advice, telling a few uncomfortable truths, sending Josey out on random errands, and playing tricks on Helena, the Cirrini’s superstitious maid. At first exasperated, Josey comes to regard Della Lee with affection. And encouraged by the first friend she has ever had, she finally finds the courage to live her life the way she’s always dreamed of doing.
Set in the winter landscape of the North Carolina mountains, The Sugar Queen takes the reader far away from the heat and Southern charm of Sarah Addison Allen’s other novels. Yet it has a magic all its own, conjured up by the soft fall of snowflakes, the hush of snowy nights, and the smell of freshly baked gingersnaps and peppermint oil. It reminded me of winters in Washington D.C., when I would wake up in the early morning to white skies and swirling snowflakes, and snuggle down happily beneath the quilt again, knowing the school buses wouldn’t be running… With more than one unexpected plot twist and the perfect blend of romance, whimsy, and humour (thank you Helena and Della Lee!), The Sugar Queen is a lovely story about a modern-day Rapunzel finally leaving her ivory tower and falling in love with the outside world, and the perfect book for a girl to cosy down on the sofa with.
© Florence Berlioz 2011