The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen

Sarah Addison Allen takes chick lit and mixes it with a pinch of magic and a good dollop of whimsy to give us her second novel, The Sugar Queen. Josey Cirrini is 27 years old, unmarried, living with her mother, and she has a secret. Hidden in her bedroom is a closet filled with all the sweets the sugar queen can’t live without. Mallomars, Little Debbies, candy corn, cookies. She secretly munches on these delights as she waits for the highlight of her day — the arrival of Adam, the hot ex-ski bum who now delivers mail.

One day she opens the door to her secret stash and is startled to find Della Lee, a rough-around-the-edges waitress, who has decided to crash in Josey’s closet indefinitely, hiding from problems of her own. Over time, Della Lee encourages Josey to expand her horizons and literally “get a life” outside of her closet and house.

Allen’s book, Garden Spells, (reviewed here) was a delightful first effort and The Sugar Queen is just as charming. I love the magic interwoven into each of the books (Josey’s friend Chloe attracts books — they literally show up out of the blue and place themselves where she can’t miss them). I also love the detailed artwork on the covers of each book, and the North Carolina setting (one of Josey’s secret treats are Moravian cookies!).  An easy, fun read that is highly recommended.  Update 4/26/2010:  Read a review of Allen’s newest book, The Girl Who Chased the Moon here.

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Persepolis: the Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

With hopes that it doesn’t reflect poorly on my intelligence, I must admit that I always have loved graphic novels (also known as comic books by certain cretins who don’t understand the art form). Persepolis certainly falls within the description of a graphic novel and is the story of Marjane Satrapi as she grew up during the Islamic Revolution and the Iran-Iraq war when she was a child in Tehran. Satrapi’s story begins in 1980 when she was ten years old and continues until she leaves Iran at age fourteen with Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return picking up her tale. I have only had the opportunity to read Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and this is an informative and entertaining read with stark, honest drawings to accompany the text.

Satrapi takes her reader through a world filled with everyday people and their everyday concerns living during an exceptional period of Iran’s history. Her grandmother tells her how they were so poor during the reign of Reza Shah Pahlavi that she would pretend to cook so that the neighbors wouldn’t notice their poverty. Satrapi deals with her feelings on the unfairness of social castes when she tells the story of their maid, Mehri, who falls in love with the neighbor’s son and pretends to be Satrapi’s sister. When the neighbor’s son finds out that Mehri is the maid and not the daughter, he leaves her. A chapter on “Heroes” tells of Siamak Jari and Mohsen Shakiba, Communists who were imprisoned and tortured before finally being released and the passionate feelings that Satrapi and her family endured as these men told their own stories. And all the while, the young Satrapi expresses her feelings of injustice, fear, intense love of her family, and her hatred of oppressive regimes as she struggles to be a child then a teenager in country torn first by war then by religious extremism.

Persepolis is a powerful little book that packs a forceful punch, putting a human face on Iranians and their deep love of country and family without sacrificing the truth of governmental and mob brutality against people. This is a very well rounded story of growing up and living in Iran and I would suggest anyone who is interested in Iranian culture to put aside their graphic novel prejudices and read Persepolis.

My Rating: