Review of THE SUGAR QUEEN by Sarah Addison Allen (see her website)Bantam, May 2008
Josey Cirrini lives with her mother, drives the Cadillac her mother insists upon, and spends her life driving her mother around town to the various meetings, hairdressing engagements, and teas that are her mother's life. Josey herself doesn't have a life. All she has is a great love for the mailman--who barely knows she exists. Each day she waits for the mailman to arrive, and rushes to the door to get the mail. To make matters worse, Josey's mother can't help putting her down--Josey has no confidence in her attractiveness--although, in her one hint of rebelliousness, she insists on wearing her lucky red sweater.
Josey's life suddenly changes when a strange woman--one Josey barely knows--takes up residence inside her closet. Josey can't bring herself to call the police on the woman--apparently a victim of domestic abuse. Following her new roommate's guidance, Josey meets Chloe Finley--a sandwich-shop owner who's learned her boyfriend had a one-night stand with another woman and can't decide whether to let him back into her life. Whether by coincidence or by her roommate's scheming, that boyfriend happens to be best friends with the much loved mailman.
With occasional added guidance from her odd roommate, and with Chloe's receiving mystical book-droppings (the fates just supply her with the book she needs for wherever she is in her life), the two women need to work out their futures, decide on their love lives, and carve out the independence both need to survive. Along the way, Josey, Chloe and the woman in the closet (Della Lee) learn another secret that binds them together forever.
The odd but interesting maid and Josey's mother's secret passion for the cab driver add more layers to the romance driving through the story.
Author Sarah Addison Allen creates a modern fairy tale with her charming writing, her sparing use of magic, and her focus on the eternal issues of learning to create enough separation to exist without breaking the bonds that people need in order to thrive. Because of the fairy tale atmosphere, I found I didn't mind the heavy use of coincidence (not only is Chloe bonded to Josey, she's also dating the mailman's best friend and she turns to Della Lee's abuser for information and potential replacement love interest). Still, I found Josey's great love for Adam the mailman to be unconvincing--since she'd never really talked to him, could she really love him--especially for a twenty-seven year-old woman.
Overall, I found THE SUGAR QUEEN to be an enjoyable read--a novel that held my interest, with enough plot twists and surprises to keep me involved and caring for the characters--even when they behaved badly.
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