NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • In this irresistible novel, Sarah Addison Allen, author of the 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, she’s 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 mother’s 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 that’s 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.
Praise for The Sugar Queen
“Like the most decadently addictive bonbons, once started, Allen’s magically entrancing novel is impossible to put down.”—Booklist (starred review)
“Bewitching . . . Such a pleasurable book.”—Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Sarah Addison lives in Asheville, North Carolina, where she is at work on her next novel.
Hometown:Asheville, North Carolina
Place of Birth:Asheville, North Carolina
Education:B.A. in Literature, 1994
Read an Excerpt
When Josey woke up and saw the feathery frost on her windowpane, she smiled. Finally, it was cold enough to wear long coats and tights. It was cold enough for scarves and shirts worn in layers, like camouflage. It was cold enough for her lucky red cardigan, which she swore had a power of its own. She loved this time of year. Summer was tedious with the light dresses she pretended to be comfortable in while secretly sure she looked like a loaf of white bread wearing a belt. The cold was such a relief.
She went to the window. A fine sheen of sugary frost covered everything in sight, and white smoke rose from chimneys in the valley below the resort town. Excited, she opened the window, but the sash stuck midway and she had to pound it the rest of the way with the palm of her hand. It finally opened to a rush of sharp early November air that would have the town in a flurry of activity, anticipating the tourists the colder weather always brought to the high mountains of North Carolina.
She stuck her head out and took a deep breath. If she could eat the cold air, she would. She thought cold snaps were like cookies, like gingersnaps. In her mind they were made with white chocolate chunks and had a cool, brittle vanilla frosting. They melted like snow in her mouth, turning creamy and warm.
Just before she ducked her head back inside, she looked down and noticed something strange.
There was a ladder propped against the house, directly underneath her window.
She leaned back in quickly and closed her window. She paused, then she locked it.
She turned and walked to her closet, distracted now. She hadn't heard anything strange last night. The tree trimmers from yesterday must have left the ladder. Yes. That had to be it. They'd probably propped it against the house and then completely forgotten about it.
She opened her closet door and reached up to pull the string that turned on the light.
Then she screamed and backed away, stopping only when she hit her desk and her lamp crashed to the floor.
"Oh for God's sake," the woman sitting on the floor of her closet said, "don't have a cow."
"Josey?" She heard her mother's voice in the hall, then the thud of her cane as she came closer.
"Please don't tell her I'm here," the woman in the closet said, with a strange sort of desperation. Despite the cold outside, she was wearing a cropped white shirt and tight dark blue jeans that sat low, revealing a tattoo of a broken heart on her hip. Her hair was bleached white-blond with about an inch of silver-sprinkled dark roots showing. Her mascara had run and there were black streaks on her cheeks. She looked drip-dried, like she'd been walking in the rain, though there hadn't been rain for days. She smelled like cigarette smoke and river water.
Josey turned her head as her bedroom door began to open. Then, in a small act that changed everything, Josey reached over and pushed the closet door closed as her mother entered the room.
"Josey? What was that noise? Are you all right?" Margaret asked. She'd been a beautiful woman in her day, delicate and trim, blue-eyed and fair-haired. There was a certain power beautiful mothers held over their less beautiful daughters. Even at seventy-four, with a limp from a hip replacement, Margaret could still enter a room and fill it like perfume. Josey could never do that. The closest she ever came was the attention she used to receive when she pitched legendary fits in public when she was young. But that was making people look at her for all the wrong reasons.
"My lamp," Josey said. "It attacked me out of nowhere."
"Oh, well," Margaret said distantly, "leave it for the maid to clean. Hurry up and get dressed. My doctor's appointment is at nine."
Margaret closed the bedroom door. Josey waited until the clump of her cane faded away before she rushed to the closet door and opened it again.
Most locals knew who Della Lee was. She waitressed at a greasy spoon called Eat and Run, which was tucked far enough outside the town limits that the ski-crowd tourists didn't see it. She haunted bars at night. She was probably in her late thirties, maybe ten years older than Josey, and she was rough and flashy and did whatever she wanted—no reasonable explanation required.
"Della Lee Baker, what are you doing in my closet?"
"You shouldn't leave your window unlocked. Who knows who could get in?" Della Lee said, single-handedly debunking the long-held belief that if you dotted your windowsills and door thresholds with peppermint oil, no unwanted visitors would ever appear. For years Josey's mother had instructed every maid in their employ to anoint the house's casings with peppermint to keep the undesirables away. Their house now smelled like the winter holidays all year round.
Josey took a step back and pointed. "Get out."
"You most certainly can."
"I need a place to hide."
"I see. And of course this was the first place you thought of."
"Who would look for me here?"
Rough women had rough ways. Was Della Lee trying to tell her that she was in danger? "Okay, I'll bite. Who's looking for you, Della Lee?"
"Maybe no one. Maybe they haven't discovered I'm missing yet." Then, to Josey's surprise, Della Lee reached over to the false wall at the back of the narrow closet and slid it open. "And speaking of discoveries, look what I found."
Revealed now was the large secret space behind the closet. There were stacks of paperback romances, magazines and catalogs on the floor, but most of the secret closet was occupied by shelves piled with food—packaged snacks, rows of sweets, towers of colas.
Josey's entire body suddenly burned with panic. She was supposed to be happy. And most of the time she supposed she was, in an awkward, sleepy kind of way. She'd never be the beauty her mother was, or have the personality of her late father. She was pale and plain and just this side of plump, and she accepted that. But food was a comfort. It filled in the hollow spaces. And it felt good to hide it, because then she could enjoy it alone without worrying about what others thought, or about letting her mother down.
"I need to figure some things out first," Della Lee said, sliding the door back in place, her point made. She was letting Josey know that she knew her secret. Don't reveal mine and I won't reveal yours. "Then I'll be moving up north."
"You can't stay here. I'll give you some money. You can stay in a motel." Josey started to turn, to get her wallet, to get Della Lee away from her food. But then she stopped. "Wait. You're leaving Bald Slope?"
"Like you don't dream of leaving this stupid town," Della Lee said, leaning back on her hands.
"Don't be ridiculous. I'm a Cirrini."
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't those travel magazines in your secret closet?"
Josey bristled. She pointed again. "Get out."
"It looks like I got here just in time. This is not the closet of a happy woman, Josey."
"At least I'm not hiding in it."
"I bet you do sometimes."
"That's it. I'm calling the police."
Della Lee laughed. She actually sat there and laughed at Josey. Her front teeth were a little crooked, but it looked good on her, offbeat and sassy. She was the kind of woman who could get away with anything because she had no boundaries. "And what will you say? There's a woman in your closet, come get her out? They might find your stash."
Josey thought about calling Della Lee's bluff. It would serve her right. It might even be worth everyone knowing about the food in her closet. But then her heart began to beat harder. Who was she kidding? It was embarrassing enough being such a sorry excuse for a Southern belle. Her weight, her unfortunate hair, her secret dreams of leaving her mother who needed her, of leaving and never looking back. Respectable daughters took care of their mothers. Respectable daughters did not hide enormous amounts of candy in their closets.
"So you stay, you don't tell anyone, is that it?"
"Sure," Della Lee said easily.
"Add it to my list of sins."
"I don't think there's room left on that list," Josey said as she took a dress from its hanger. Then she closed the closet door on Della Lee.
She went to the bathroom down the hall to dress and to pull her very curly, licorice-black hair back into a low ponytail. When she walked back to her bedroom, she stared at her closet door for a moment. It looked completely innocuous. The door and its casing were painted an antique white set against the pale blue of the room. The corner blocks at the top of the casing were hand-carved in a circular bull's-eye pattern. The doorknob was white porcelain, shaped like a mushroom cap.
She took a deep breath and walked to it. Maybe she'd imagined the whole thing.
She opened the door.
"You should wear makeup," Della Lee said.
Josey reached up and grabbed her lucky red cardigan off the high shelf, then closed the door. She put the sweater on and closed her eyes. Go away, go away, go away.
She opened the door again.
"No, really. Mascara. Lip gloss. Something."
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 Josey’s 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 Allen’s 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 Julian’s motivations in his pursuit of Chloe? How did your opinion of him shift throughout the novel?
5. In her conversation with Livia’s 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 Josey’s 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 Chloe’s 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 Berry’s role in Bald Slope? How do her remedies–such as stinging nettle tea–compare to Josey’s sweets?
10. How did Margaret’s 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 Josey’s generation?
11. How did you react when Della Lee’s 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 Josey’s 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 attorney’s 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 Allen’s debut, Garden Spells? What forms of mystical hope appear in both books?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
At times funny and at others, touching, this book has between its covers something to please every reader - it is part drama, family saga, romance, thriller and certainly comedy -and it has certainly vaulted onto my top ten list of favorite books. In fact, after reading a borrowed copy (suggested to me by a friend), I rushed out and bought two other copies, as though I want it to be part of my permanent library, I also want to loan it out to others - it is that good! I absolutely fell in love with the characters in this story, and when I was forced to put it down, I found myself rushing back to it as soon as I could. The characters came alive, and I looked forward to reading it the way I would anticipate getting together with good friends for a great gossip session. It is charming, enchanting, entertaining - and is escapism at its very best. For anyone who hasn't read this book, but is about to - I am a little envious, as you are in for one of the greatest reading experiences ever!
"The Sugar Queen" is a wonderful story about the lives of three women: Josey, Della Lee, and Chloe. As the book progresses, you learn how their lives intersect and how much they need each other. Love, fear, danger, heartache, and hope are woven into the story, keeping the reading interesting. Some of the questions you will find answers to are: Will Josey ever find her true self? What happened to Della Lee? Will Chloe listen to the books? How do Adam, Jake, Rawley, and Julian affect the story? I really enjoyed this book! The chapters are all named after candies which made it fun (although it had my sweet tooth going too!). The story is easy to read and the twists and turns kept me turning the pages. This is a great book for reading during a snowstorm, or while sitting by a stream on a summer day. Enjoy!
Sarah Addison Allen has such an excellent ability to blend magic realism with realism. Her characters are well etched, well developed, leaving you to exalt the underdogs and chide the villains. Be careful though as all of Ms. Allen's characters have potential for both. Her prose is lovely. And her setting in the NC ski town left me breathless from description.Josey Cirrini is the daughter of one of the founding families of Bald Slope, North Carolina, and at 27 her duties consist entirely of being her mother's chaffeur and errand runner. She also enjoys hiding in her closet with romance novels and candy she's purchased and snuck into the house. When she comes home one day to a mysterious woman in the closet, Josey is shocked, but that's just the beginning. Josey's life is about to be shaken up and reinvigorated. Della Lee forces her to get out and socialize including with the mailman she's had a crush on for years and encourages her to make a close girl friend to spend time with. All of a sudden, Josey is beginning to see that she wasn't really living at all. Love Sarah Addison Allen's books - such a special quality to them. They contain just enough 'wonder' and possibility to make them stand apart from other novels.
I fell in love with the characters. This is magical realism, town gossip, ghosts, the potion's of a neighborhood "witch doctor," a few strange books and a twist at the end that you won't see coming. Brilliant and enchanting!
This book was a surprising read for me. I was looking around on the B&N website and liked the cover most of all and put it on my "wish list" for later. I found myself in the B&N bookstore and saw it on sale so I picked it up and never PUT IT DOWN until I was done! This author is superb! The development of the story, quick and stays that way. The characters were well written and I had an immidiate connection with the 3 women in this book. It was a great read and I cannot wait to read more from this author.
Affluent semi southern belle Josey Cirrini has one big problem. She is THE SUGAR QUEEN of the south unable to resist candy and cakes. Since her mom the great dictator demands she must stop eating sugar, twenty-seven year old Josey feels like a kid as she hides her stash in a secret compartment inside her closet. ---- Battered Eat and Run greasy spoon waitress Della Lee Baker takes refuge in Josey¿s hideaway. Worried about her uninvited guest, Josey tries to make the haven a bit more comfortable for her soaking wet unwanted guest who explains she took a dip in the nearby cold river. Meanwhile Josey relooks her lifestyle starting with her philandering father Marco, developer of Bald Slope Ski Resort, and her secret attraction for the mailman Adam Boswell while Della Lee becomes her streets wise fairy godmother helping Josey with her insecurities starting with the best grilled cheese sandwich in town and ending she hopes with Adam. --- This whimsical charming romantic fairy tale is an engaging tale as tough Della Lee harangues, bullies, and coaxes Josey to go out and get him in spite of her mom¿s objection to a working class son-in-law. The story line is driven by the relationship between Josey and Della Lee though the other key players are complete especially how they connect to and from the titled character. On top of all that is the mystery of Della Lee. Readers will appreciate this engaging tale and seek and want to read Sarah Addison Allen¿s magical previous novel (see GARDEN SPELLS). --- Harriet Klausner
This is a great book. I have read all of this authors novels and have enjoyed them all. Great characters. I love this authors imagination and will continue reading her novels. She is definitely one of my favorite authors.
I absolutely loved this book!! The chapters are named after different candies, which I loved. I also loved the characters and felt for the main character, as well as all of the characters! I didn't put this book down and with a, 2 1/2 month old (at the time), that's hard to do! I love the different twists and turns and everything becomes interrelated, almost like magic! Definitely buy this book, read it, and put it in your library to keep!!
I loved this book. Allen's writing captures you and makes you fall into the story. She is inventive and fun to read. All in all this book was hard to put down.
I really liked the first book I read by Sarah Addison Allen, "Garden Spells". I found it to be easy reading and entertaining. This book was just as good and I would love to read more by her.
I have read every book by this author. This is the first one and it is the last one I read. I absolutely love this book and all of her others. I read this quickly as it was so absorbing that I had to read more and more until it was done. She writes in such a beautiful way that you get absorbed. She is possibly my favorite writer just behind Fannie Flagg. Bad part is, I won't have anything to read from either author until they produce another book. Highly recommended. She is so good.
After reading Allen’s The Girl Who Chased the Moon, I was anxious to see how her other books would compare. I thought it was great! This is a story about Josey, Della Lee, and Chloe. Josey is the main character of this book, and she is a closet candy-lover in the most literal sense. Accustomed to feeling like a massive disappointment to her mother, she hides an enormous stash of sweets and romance novels in her closet. Her closet is her escape, but she dreams of leaving home to travel. Della Lee is a thirty-year-old bad girl, who is frequently found in the local court thanks to domestic violence issues and solicitation. Nothing could have surprised Josey more than to open her closet for a MoonPie, only to find Della Lee hiding there and refusing to leave. Chloe Finley has an interesting relationship with books; they FIND her. If she doesn’t pick them up and read them, the books become more persistent. They move from room to room in her house, and even follow her to work. Each of these girls has a little bit of magic about them, and they all have more in common than they know. This book was a quick and fun read. Allen names each chapter after a type of candy. I absolutely love Allen’s writing style. She is funny and warm, and you feel like you really know the characters. The NC setting was fantastic – she describes the growth of a little ski resort town near Asheville. Just like The Girl Who Chased the Moon, Allen has a lovely, descriptive way of making her characters come alive.
I thought this book was wonderful. A sweet tale of finding yourself and the having courage to be yourself. READ IT!
Heartwarming,funny,sad and simply wonderful. Allen can spin a tale like no other. The characters come alive in her story with just a touch of magic. I didn't want it to end.
I adore all her books! She is a brilliant writer! Such an imagination this one! :)
This story totally drew me in - the characters were delightful! Filled with warmth and compassion.
Josey Cirrini's refuge is her closet, where she retreats to eat sugary treats and read romance novels. One evening Josey finds she is not the sole occupant of her closet. Della Lee Baker has moved in and she seems determined to turn Josey's quiet life upside down. This was a light, magical novel of the changes in Josey's life.
Josey is 27 years old with a severe lack of self-esteem who lives with her mother. She doesn't have a job other than taking care of her mother, whom she thinks disapproves and dislikes her. To compensate for those feelings, Josey hordes a cache of candy and other goodies that she hides in a special compartment at the back of her closet. One day she returns from an errand for her mother and finds her friend Della Lee hiding in her closet. Della Lee strives to get Josey to expand her horizons and make new friends. After meeting Chloe while doing an errand for Della Lee, Josey starts to emerge from her shell and her personality blossoms as well as her relationships with other people.The story which follows is unexpected and unusual.
I enjoyed this book. A very good light read & just what I needed. I didn't know much about it but read it because a book group selected it.
Sweet, charming and compelling - I loved listening to this (despite my initial disappointment that it wasn't a continuation of the characters from Garden Spells). The characters are well-rounded and interesting, and the story is simply magical!
I really enjoyed the book. I really loved the characters, they were real to me.
¿Paper, string, and glue.¿ (113, 256) ¿Separately, they were just objects waiting for a purpose. Together, they were parts of a whole.¿ (256) Chloe, Della Lee, and Josey are like the construction materials used in the craft of book making. Chloe, is paper, pulp and water meshed into its own delicate form on which others have left their ink print. Della Lee is the mystical string used to pull together two strangers and Josey is the glue that holds them together.Sarah Addison Allen casts a spell of her own with Sugar Queen. She intertwines the lives of three seemingly dissimilar young women into a magical story at times as sweet as a Christmas confection and at others as bitter as unprocessed cocoa powder. . I couldn¿t put it down and I missed all three women when I closed the final chapter.Sugar Queen is an enchanting fairytale befitting the adult reader. It could easily be used for a YA Mother-Daughter book group.
I usually wait until a book comes out in paperback because I find them more comfortable while reading in bed but after reading Garden Spells, I snatched up The Sugar Queen asap. Sugar Queen didn't wrap me in magic as quickly as Garden Spells did but each page I turned had me under Sarah Addison Allen's spell...again! I really enjoy her writing style.
My response to this book is similar to that of "Garden Spells" -- a nice pleasant read, but nothing really deep. There's a little bit of that magical realism quality in Allen's books -- not a lot, but just enough to give it a feeling of something just beyond one's grasp. Part of this story was a little too predictable & sappy, but it also had a few unexpected plot twists that caught me off guard.
The Sugar Queen is a good, light read. While I gave it three stars, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes you just want a simple, light story that you can devour and feel good about after reading. The Sugar Queen did this, for me. Josey, as mentioned in the book description, is the primary character, but the story really entwines the tales of three different women. The plot is a little too predictable at times, however. Even for a light read.