Friday, July 24, 2015

Review: Sugar by Deirdre Riordan Hall

Title: Sugar
Author: Deirdre Riordan Hall
Publisher: Skyscape
Publication date: June 1, 2015
Rating: ★

Summary (via Goodreads):

Sugar Legowski-Gracia wasn’t always fat, but fat is what she is now at age seventeen. Not as fat as her mama, who is so big she hasn’t gotten out of bed in months. Not as heavy as her brother, Skunk, who has more meanness in him than fat, which is saying something. But she’s large enough to be the object of ridicule wherever she is: at the grocery store, walking down the street, at school. Sugar’s life is dictated by taking care of Mama in their run-down home – cooking, shopping, and, well, eating. A lot of eating, which Sugar hates as much as she loves.

When Sugar meets Even (not Evan – his nearly illiterate father misspelled his name on the birth certificate), she has the new experience of someone seeing her and not her body. As their unlikely friendship builds, Sugar allows herself to think about the future for the first time, a future not weighed down by her body or her mother.

Soon Sugar will have to decide whether to become the girl that Even helps her see within herself or to sink into the darkness of the skin-deep role her family and her life have created for her.

Many thanks to Skyscape for sending me this electronic copy via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

This is the first time in a long time I've actively disliked a book. Like, gave it a 1-star review and added it to my BAD BOOKS shelf on Goodreads. Let me just cut to the chase: Sugar was not a good read.

The story drags because it's just the same events on repeat: Sugar hangs out with her new friend Even. Even validates her self-worth. Sugar goes home where she is emotionally and physically abused by her mother and brother. Sugar binges on junk food to dull the pain. Then it starts all over again. When major events do finally happen, they seem to come out of nowhere because there's no build-up. It's very perplexing.

Sugar's narration is so self-loathing that it becomes almost unbearable. We are constantly reminded of all the times Sugar has been bullied, all the ways she hates herself. After a while, it gets redundant and makes the story feel stagnant. Yes, it's important to establish that this is what her life is like, but I don't want to sit there and recap all the bad days she's had. I want to know what she's going to do about it. And we never really get to a point where she is self-empowered because she's too busy hating her life and her body. I didn't like Sugar's personality and after a while I just couldn't sympathize with her.

Insta-love doesn't bother me the way it might for others, but here the insta-love between Even and Sugar is cringeworthy. Even is full of lines that are supposed to make you swoon but end up sounding cheesy because, well, it's insta-love. Their relationship feels forced. And problematic. Isn't it weird that Sugar only starts taking care of herself once she meets Even? Why is her self-love conditional upon his interest? (Why does she only start to love her body once she starts to slim down? Why can't she develop a sense of body positivity in spite of how she looks?)

And don't get me started on the other characters. So many one-dimensional characters who are nothing more than plot devices. Abusive alcoholic father who is supposed to make Even look like the underdog? Check. (By the way, how has an illiterate person managed to afford the mortgage on coastal New England property for so long?) Allie, who has no personality and serves as the obligatory mean girl? Check. Jesús the janitor, who has apparently known Sugar all her life, who shows up in the last twenty pages of the book and reveals a plot twist? Check. Fat Henry, who explains away key plot points in clunky monologues? Check and check.

You guys. I don't even know. I was so taken by the description of this book – I thought it was going to be profound. And meaningful. And empowering. This book came nowhere close to that. I believe it's an author's job to earn their readers' mental and emotional investment, whether it's through strong writing or strong characterization or a strong story, but I found the storyline to be senseless and the writing stilted at best. I seem to be in the minority here, but for me, Sugar fell short.

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