Synopses & Reviews
In this irresistible novel, Sarah Addison Allen, author of the New York Times
bestselling debut, Garden Spells
, tells the tale of a young woman whose family secrets — and secret passions — are about to change her life forever.
Josey Cirrini is sure of three things: winter is her favorite season, shes a sorry excuse for a Southern belle, and sweets are best eaten in the privacy of her closet. For while Josey has settled into an uneventful life in her mothers house, her one consolation is the stockpile of sugary treats and paperback romances she escapes to each night. Until she finds her closet harboring Della Lee Baker, a local waitress who is one part nemesis — and two parts fairy godmother. With Della Lee's tough love, Josey's narrow existence quickly expands. She even bonds with Chloe Finley, a young woman who is hounded by books that inexplicably appear when she needs them — and who has a close connection to Josey's longtime crush. Soon Josey is living in a world where the color red has startling powers, and passion can make eggs fry in their cartons. And thats just for starters.
Brimming with warmth, wit, and a sprinkling of magic, here is a spellbinding tale of friendship, love — and the enchanting possibilities of every new day.
"Like the most decadently addictive bonbons, once started, Allen's magically entrancing novel is impossible to put down." Booklist
In this irresistible work, the author of the New York Times-bestselling debut, Garden Spells, tells the tale of a young woman whose family secrets — and secret passions — are about to change her life forever.
About the Author
Sarah Addison lives in Asheville, North Carolina, where she is at work on her next novel.
Reading Group Guide
After the publication of her New York Times
bestselling debut, Garden Spells
, Sarah Addison Allen returns with the captivating tale of a powerful family in small-town North Carolina, where a lifetime of secrecy is about to unravel-and a sweet dream is about to come true. At twenty-seven years old, Josey Cirrini spends her days caring for her widowed, embittered mother. Except for a secret crush on the mailman, Josey has little excitement in her life, consoling herself with a closet full of hidden desserts and paperback romance novels. But Della Lee Baker is about to change all that, with revelations about Joseys legendary father as well as her mother, who was a stunning belle in her younger days. Once Della Lee has worked her tough-talking magic, the Cirrini women will be forever transformed.
The questions and discussion topics that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Sarah Addison Allens The Sugar Queen. We hope they will enrich your experience of this enchanting novel.
1. What keeps Josey from leaving home? What makes Adam stay in Bald Slope? In what ways do they feel the same about North Carolina and its landscape?
2. What has Josey hungered for throughout her life? What transformed her from a difficult child into a woman who hides her cravings?
3. Why does Margaret want to prevent the arrival of unexpected visitors? What fears are captured in her peppermint-oil ritual?
4. What are Julians motivations in his pursuit of Chloe? How did your opinion of him shift throughout the novel?
5. In her conversation with Livias granddaughter (chapter six), Josey suggests that Amelia might want to have a life of her own. Amelia immediately dismisses that idea. What enables Josey to free herself, rather than becoming like Amelia? Could Josey have done it without Della Lee?
6. How does money influence Joseys outlook on life? How did her father use it, through lavish parties and an eye-catching house, to get what he wanted? What was he not able to buy, no matter how wealthy he was?
7. Josey lives in a world of rules, from a neighborhood that bans snowmen to a mother who bans a snug red sweater. What is the purpose of these rules? What stifling rules in your life-at work, with your family, or in your community-do you sometimes dream of breaking?
8. Discuss Chloes relationship to the world of books. What is the significance of the magical way they appear in her life, and the equally magical way she finds a house to call her own? How do books become a home for her?
9. What is Nova Berrys role in Bald Slope? How do her remedies-such as stinging nettle tea-compare to Joseys sweets?
10. How did Margarets past shape her future? Who ultimately is to blame for standing in the way of her love for Rawley? How have notions of love and motherhood changed for Joseys generation?
11. How did you react when Della Lees situation was revealed in the end? Have you ever been guided by the wisdom of someone like her?
12. Would you have forgiven Jake? How did you feel about him after you learned the identity of his lover?
13. How are Adam and Josey able to heal each other as their attraction grows? What does it take to propel Joseys crush beyond the realm of fantasy? When are they able to trust each other enough to have a real-world relationship?
14. What were your thoughts as Josey tore up the attorneys note aboard the ship? What do you believe it said? Are secrets ever useful in a family, or do they always result in pain?
15. What themes appear in both this novel and Sarah Addison Allens debut, Garden Spells? What forms of mystical hope appear in both books?
A Q&A with author Sarah Addison Allen on her book, The Sugar Queen
Many women can identify with sometimes wanting to hide away from the world when the everyday gets a little tough — did you draw any inspiration for Josey from your own life?
I'm a classic stress-eater, so I know a lot about how eating can become a way of hiding from what's really wrong. I escape into food. But some people escape into books. Some into relationships that might not be good for them. The three main characters in The Sugar Queen struggle with each of these comforts-turned-crutches. The challenge is stepping outside our comforts, resisting the urge to hide in them, and The Sugar Queen explores the glorious things that can happen when we do.
Rather than “women’s fiction” or “romance,” you’ve described your writing as “Southern-fried magical realism”; in what ways does this apply to The Sugar Queen?
Magical realism is a blending of the unusual or supernatural into an otherwise ordinary setting. And, to me, this perfectly describes the South. The Sugar Queen involves a lot of magical happenings, but in a very down-home Southern setting. It’s full of things that could almost be true.
Booklovers everywhere would rejoice if books magically appeared all around them. Where did you come up with this rather quirky idea for Chloe’s special gift?
Have you ever had a book catch your eye as you were walking through a bookstore or library, and it wasn’t a book you would normally read but you decided to try it anyway, and it ended up changing the way you looked at things? This has happened to me many times and I started to wonder, What if books are doing it on purpose? What if individual books are actually trying to find us, to get our attention, in order to give us information or a story we need to hear? This was my inspiration for Chloe and the books that follow her around.
Della Lee is a sassy, smart-mouthed fairy godmother of sorts. What inspired her character?
Josey needed Della Lee, and so Della Lee magically appeared. Her character was as much of a surprise to me as it was to Josey in the book. And Della Lee pretty much dictated the story from there. She likes to have her way.
On your website, you joke that your childhood dream was to become a garbage man. When did you realize that writing was really your calling?
There's an old hymn called "How Can I Keep from Singing?" That's what writing feels like to me. I have to write. It’s intrinsic to who I am. So it was a natural choice for me to try to pursue writing as a career. Truthfully, though, I still daydream about how fun it would be to ride on the back of a garbage truck.
Who are some of the authors that have influenced you as a writer?
I’m a huge fan of Alice Hoffman, Fred Chappell and Susan Elizabeth Phillips.
What are you working on next?
Get ready to be introduced to North Carolina barbeque and Southern cakes in Festival of the Naked Lady, another heaping helping of Southern-fried magical realism, which Bantam will publish in 2009.
From the Hardcover edition.
Random House Reader’s Circle: What inspired the story of The Sugar Queen?
Sarah Addison Allen: I know someone who retired from the postal service after thirty years of running a rural route. I loved hearing the stories of elderly patrons who would stand by their boxes with iced tea or a slice of cake for the mailman. It wasn’t the mail they looked forward to, it was the mailman–the only person they saw on a regular basis. Josey’s Rapunzel-like character was born from this. I began to wonder, what if there was a young woman trapped in her own house? The mailman would be her only contact with the outside world. What if she fell in love with him? What an interesting dynamic that would be–the young woman, living for the arrival of the mail, and the mailman, with no idea he was carrying off her heart when he left each day.
RHRC: How did you decide on the specific candies mentioned in The Sugar Queen? And which candy is your favorite?
SAA: I knew I wanted to focus on candy that would realistically be found in a small Southern town like the one in The Sugar Queen, so I decided on Southern and rural candies. And I took my research very seriously. I made it my mission to try every cookie, candy, and sweet mentioned in the book. A hard job, but someone had to do it. Of all the candy I tried, my favorite was probably Cow Tales. Caramel-apple-flavored Cow Tales, in particular.
RHRC: The town of Bald Slope in The Sugar Queen is described as a ski resort town. Is there really skiing in North Carolina?
SAA: Yes! When you think of the South, snow doesn’t automatically come to mind. But there are many great ski resorts in the Appalachian Mountains of western North Carolina. I based the fictional town of Bald Slope in The Sugar Queen on the small ski towns in this area.
RHRC: What’s the most unusual thing in your closet? Do you hide secret things in your closet like Josey?
SAA: My closet is so crammed with stuff that most of what’s in there is a secret even to me. I’m planning an archeological dig soon. But the most unusual thing I know of is probably several boxes of old Star Wars memorabilia I collected as a kid. You never know when a Luke Skywalker action figure might come in handy.
RHRC: What are you working on now?
SAA: I’m not through exploring the lovely and vast strangeness of the South. My next books will have all the magic, romance, food, and Southern settings that readers have come to expect from a Sarah Addison Allen novel. I have the warmest, most enthusiastic readers. These books are a joy to write because of them.
RHRC: Why do you think your books have struck such a chord in readers?
SAA: Maybe because the books explore the magic of the ordinary. Everyday things are magical, we just take them for granted. Apples. Candy. A good haircut. Books. Community. Family. Friends. A small gift. A letter in the mail. Falling in love.
RHRC: Speaking of falling in love, many readers would love to know what happens to the characters in The Sugar Queen. Where do you see them now?
SAA: Josey and Adam continue to travel. Adam wants children, but it will be years before he’ll tell Josey this. He wants her to experience all she can, all she wants to. They come back to Bald Slope to have their first and only child, a little boy named Parker. Josey chooses to have her child in Bald Slope, not because of her mother–who never even sees the baby–but because she wants Chloe with her.
Chloe and Jake have a solid relationship and three redheaded children. Jake eventually becomes district attorney. Books still follow Chloe around. They also follow Chloe’s youngest child, a little girl named Hanna. Josey tells Chloe about their father, and Chloe accepts it, mostly because the book The Princess Diaries hounds her until she does. Margaret and Rawley marry, but no one knows this until Margaret passes away years later. Margaret and Josey never truly reconcile. From the beginning, their stories were meant to diverge and never reconnect. It’s the only way for them to be truly happy. It’s a hard truth, but we are sometimes happier without some people in our lives. I don’t know what happens to Julian. He loses his power after Della Lee passes away. And without the magic that defined him, he slowly ceases to exist, until no one can see him anymore. I can’t see him.
Marlena moves back to South America ten years later. She lives with her sister and sometimes dreams of Bald Slope, of mountains covered in a patchwork quilt of colors. And sometimes ghosts from her time in North Carolina visit her and she chases them away with salt and sand, but not before sitting down and discussing what’s going on in the lives of those she left behind. That’s what she and ghosts have in common–concern for the living.