Published by Skyscape on June 1, 2015
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Coming of Age
I’m the fat Puerto Rican–Polish girl who doesn’t feel like she belongs in her skin, or anywhere else for that matter. I’ve always been too much and yet not enough.
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.
As a lover of young adult contemporary novels, I can safely say I’ve never read a young adult book quite like this. Sugar follows teenager Sugar, an overweight girl who is the subject of bullying. She lives in a toxic and abusive home, and copes by binging on junk food. One day a new kid moves to town. His name is Even, and he soon befriends Sugar when no one else will. Sugar follows their relationship and how it helps to change Sugar as she grows into her own woman.
I found Sugar to be very impressive because it deals with a plethora of important issues in an honest way. This book touches on eating disorders, mental health, physical and emotional abuse, bullying, family issues, poverty, and diversity. Yet even though these topics are all packed into one novel, they all fit well. Never did I feel like Hall was trying to accomplish too much within one book. It takes a skilled writer to make these difficult topics feel so real and genuine in a fiction novel.
In fact, there are some scenes in this novel that were particularly difficult for me to read. Sugar suffers from a binge eating disorder, and there are scenes of her binging in the book. Hall describes in detail how Sugar is eating her junk food, and it made me feel queasy and almost want to take a break from reading. Even though these scenes were hard to read, I think they are very important because they helped me see why Sugar ate emotionally.
Similarly, Sugar is a very sympathetic character. She begins the novel a very passive person, and it was quite frustrating to see her let everyone walk all over her. However, it was understandable that she almost acted as a shell of a person because she was treated so poorly both at home and in her community. I was really glad when Even came into her life, but he did make me nervous. Sugar develops romantic feelings for him, and I didn’t want Even to break her heart.
I do have a few small critiques of Sugar for which I deducted a star from my rating. Mainly, there is a scene that takes place in New York City later in the novel. I won’t describe it in detail so as to avoid spoilers, but this scene would never happen in real life. Two teenagers would not be able to find a hotel room, nor be able to afford one, on New Year’s Eve on short notice. Because this just wasn’t plausible, it detracted from my believability of the story as a whole.
All in all, I really enjoyed Sugar and was very impressed with Hall’s ability to write such an honest young adult book. I would love to see more books take on these difficult topics, as I think they are helpful both for people who have gone through similar struggles, or to those of us who simply want to learn more about our fellow humans. I highly recommend Sugar, and I look forward to picking up more books by this author in the future!
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