Cover Image: Sugar


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Member Reviews

I just love the way that right from the first pages Bernice McFadden’s characters jump off the page and in this case Sugar Lacey makes her grand entrance, dragging her suitcase, strutting through the small town of the deep south, Bigelow, Arkansas (1950’s) in her high heels, tight dress, brightly coloured wig and nonchalant attitude,  peering through the window of the hairdresser knowing that would be where all the talk happens, and on to number 10 Grove Street, her new abode, right next door to Pearl and Joe.

Pearl has promised the Reverend to welcome this newcomer, but she wasn’t expecting the shock of seeing Sugar’s face and who it reminds her of, nor the sudden flurry of visitors who want to sit in her kitchen in case they get a peek at this unwelcome new resident, whom they’re so inquisitive of.

"Was this the woman the Reverend spoke of? The woman Pearl had been asked to guide and help eventually lead into the flock? Was this her? This woman didn’t look like she’d ever spent a second in a house of worship, much less knew what one was. But there was something else too. A slither of something familiar that Pearl was yet to put her finger on."

When they do spot her, they’re certainly given more to talk about.

Sugar has grown up not knowing her family, raised by the three Lacey sisters before setting out and discovering how much tougher life is on your own. Pearl still hasn’t got over the loss of her daughter Jude and many things about her life, date from that moment, who she was before and who she is now.

When she finally plucks up the courage to go next door and introduce herself, she can’t herself from commenting on what she thinks is an unusual name, asking Sugar if that’s her nickname.

“No, that’s my Christian name. Why? Don’t you know sugar is brown first? White folks couldn’t stand the fact that something so sweet shared the same colour as the people who cut the cane, slopped the hogs and picked the cotton. So they bleached it to resemble them, and now they done gone and fooled everybody. You included.”

Pearl and Sugar develop an unlikely friendship, the one challenging the other to change perspective, enabling them both to meet somewhere in the middle, an improvement for both of them in the way they had been living their lives.

As we know, life never sits still, change and disruption often arrive uninvited and when they do Sugar must make a decision. The book closes with a few threads indicating that there could be more to come and indeed there is, Sugar being the first in the Sugar Lacey trilogy of novels.

In this wonderful debut novel, 20 years after being first published, now available in the UK, we encounter the enchanting, captivating and entertaining storytelling of Bernice McFadden, her unforgettable characters and the community that surrounds them.

McFadden is an author who I will happily read all her work, there’s something reliable and comforting when you sit down with one of her works, knowing you’re not going to want to put it down until it’s finished, but forcing yourself to do so, because you want the experience to linger.
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Impactful and beautifully written novel.

The premise of a young prostitution moving to an area for a fresh start in 50s America is a good one and one that takes the author to touch on many subjects such as race, rape, murder and the power of friendship through it all.

Highly recommend.
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I really enjoyed this book.  It was so well written and incredibly descriptive.  The characters really came to life for me and it the writing was lovely.  It really brought the time period to life.  Highly recommended.
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Sugar – Bernice McFadden
Release Date 5th August 2021

Sugar was a fantastic novel, At the beginning of the story you meet a prostitute, Sugar, that comes to the town of Bigelow, Arkanas to start a fresh after a horrible past. We then meet the next-door neighbour Pearl where a lovely friendship begins. The heartache and struggles can be felt throughput this book and makes their friendship bloom. 
The ending of the story had me craving more, which in my opinion is the perfect way a book can leave you.
I received a copy o f ‘Sugar’ as I showed interest in one of the vintage titles available on NetGalley, so Thank You to Random House Uk, Vintage @vintagebooks and NetGalley for allowing me to review this book.
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Sugar is new in town. Her arrival is met with whispers, judgement and rumours. She struts into town in her skimpy outfit and heavily made up face. What the shocked townfolks can’t see are the secrets and scars that she also carries with her. Sugar moves in next door to Pearl, a woman struggling with the violent, shocking loss of her daughter fifteen years before.

The story resolves around Pearl and Sugar, two very different women who end up establishing a friendship that transforms their lives. These two characters were so well- written that their images and personalities are stuck in my mind. I loved watching their friendship blossom. There were so many happy moments that had me smiling alone. Some unexpected humour too. The low moments had my eyes glistening with unshed tears. I enjoyed reading about these two and the support characters especially Joe.

This is such a deep, haunting, raw story about loss, love, secrets, grief, friendship and family. Its an emotional read that evoked all kinds of feelings from me. I was certainly sad to see the story end but I’m glad that there is a book 2. Highly recommended
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Wow this starts with a bang. I really didn't know if I wanted to continue reading, if I'm honest. It felt so gratuitous. But carry on I did, thankfully as this book was pretty great. 

That's not to say it was an easy read because it absolutely wasn't. It's heartbreaking. But Sugar's strength shines through and the book even managed to make me laugh a fair few times.
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Bigelow, Arkansas, in the 1950's. A small town where everyone knows everyone else's business. Church going and upright, the town is turned upside down when Sugar Lacey struts into town.
 In her high heels and skin tight clothing, she moves into a house next door to Pearl, who is asked by the local minister to bring Sugar into the fold.
What Pearl doesn't bargain for is the change that striking up a friendship with Sugar will have on her own life.

Pearl has never recovered from the brutal murder of her youngest child and only daughter, Jude, 15 years ago. There's something about Sugar that reminds her of Jude, and she continues to pursue a connection with Sugar despite Sugar's 'keep away from me' attitude. Both women have been damaged by circumstances in their own lives over which they had no control, and their unlikely friendship opens their hearts and eases their pain. Secrets long forgotten or hidden emerge as the story unfolds.

This is a book of dark themes, of murder as well as psychological and physical damage. It is written in such a skilled way - the characters are so accessible that the brutality hovers on the edge of the narrative - always present, but never overwhelming.
 It is both a heart breaking and lovely read. The blossoming friendship between Pearl and Sugar draws the reader in and inspires hope and healing for the both of them. There is no happy ending, however; it left me with a heavy heart.
 I was pleasantly surprised to find that there is another book to follow, which I will be searching out.
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I’d never heard of Sugar by Bernice L. McFadden the first time around and am so grateful for this free ARC prior to its 20th anniversary edition.

What a beautiful, heartbreaking story of the friendship of two women who couldn’t be less alike. And yet…

Set in small-town 1950s Arkansas, Sugar Lacey, a 30-year old prostitute, moves next door to church-going Pearl, whose life was changed forever the day her 15-year-old daughter Jude was found murdered.

Over sweet-potato pie, a cautious friendship develops that defies the town’s gossips and slowly rekindles Pearl’s love of life. A book filled with humanity and the perseverance of the human spirit when faced with unimaginable horrors. 

I’m so happy to see this book will get another shot at taking our hearts and I pray it does extremely well.
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This is a lovely book, but you might need some tissues in parts.
The story starts in Arkansas in the 1940s with the brutal rape and killing of Pearl's daughter, Jude. The story then moves forward 15 years to the mid 1950's and the arrival of Sugar Lacey in the house across the road from Pearl.  After a few attempts at making her acquaintance, Pearl is finally able to make a friend of Sugar and the grief around Pearl starts to lift.  It maybe helps that Sugar bears a striking resemblance to Jude or that the local God fearing women don't like Sugar as she is a prostitute, something Pearl doesn't realise initially.  Sugar starts to open up to Pearl about her sad past and why she does what she does.  In turn, Pearl opens her heart to Sugar and together they heal.  Other people feel the need to interfere and things don't trundle along smoothly.
The end chapters are heartbreaking.  This is a lovely book.
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What a beautiful book, about the friendship between two women that could not be more different from each other.
A story about race, friendship, shame, prejudice, loyalty. It's beautifully written and so compelling. Your heart will break for Sugar and Pearl.

Many thanks to NetGalley for an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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Fans of Yaa Gyasi and Toni Morrison will enjoy this read. It takes you right back to the south in the 1940s and 50s with life in Bigelow, Arkansas and the community who live there. The characters are well developed and it touches on their connections to each other so well. It also touches on loss, grief, sorrow and hope in an amazing way.
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Many thanks to NetGalley and Random House UK Vintage for a free ARC of this book.

I haven't read anything by Bernice L McFadden previously, but the blurb caught my attention. I am so pleased I received a copy of this moving novel. Usually, I would make notes as I read so I can quote lines that stand out for me, but this was a photocopy, so I couldn't take notes this time. However, so many beautifully written lines made an impact on me.

The book covers the story of Sugar and Pearl, two women in a southern town in 1950s America, with all its superstition and prejudice. Against all odds, these two strong and independent characters become friends.

This is a brutal and moving read and shows strength and perseverance in the face of horrific incidents. The plot, pacing, and characterisation are all done excellently. I'd hoped Sugar would make a different choice at the end, but can see why she took the road she did. As well as the dark side of life, the narrative also brings us humour and camaraderie aplenty.

In my eyes, this is a must read book, and I'm delighted to see this classic re-released. A solid five stars from me.


NOTE ON RATINGS: I consider a 3-star rating a positive review. Picky about which books I give 5 stars to, I reserve this highest rating for the stories I find stunning and which moved me.

4 STARS: I WOULD PULL AN ALL-NIGHTER — Go read this book.
3 STARS: IT WAS GOOD! — An okay read. Didn’t love it. Didn’t hate it.
2 STARS: I MAY HAVE LIKED A FEW THINGS —Lacking in some areas: writing, characterisation, and/or problematic plot lines.
1 STAR: NOT MY CUP OF TEA —Lots of issues with this book.
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Young and confident, with a swagger in her step, Sugar arrives in the small southern town of Bigelow with the hope of starting over. Soon Bigelow is alight with gossip and suspicion, and Sugar fears she can't hide from her past. Until that is, she meets Pearl, her next-door neighbour. Over sweet-potato pie, an unlikely friendship begins, transforming both women's lives - and the life of an entire town.

The story is well-written with rich characters, and the plot has many twists and turns of events that kept me engaged. The story is very narrative and has lots of details, which at times slows the story down. However,  I had to see how the story would end. Sugar was such an intriguing and mysterious character that I had to patiently follow it through to the end.

This is a first for me by the author and one I enjoyed and would read more of their work. The book cover is eye-catching and appealing and would spark my interest if in a bookshop. Thank you very much to the author, publisher and Netgalley for this ARC.
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really enjoyed this!!

the writing was lovely - so descriptive yet easy to read, and it made me fall in love with all the characters. i love books set in this time period and this one didn't disappoint!
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Bernice L McFadden's powerful classic multilayered southern American novel evokes the 1950s era with vibrancy and colour, and details the surprising friendship that springs up between neighbours, sex worker, Sugar Lacey, with her in your face attitude, and the still grieving Pearl Taylor, married to Joe, who has never got over the loss of her daughter, Jude, brutally raped and killed, her body discarded by the road 15 years ago, a devastating crime that never saw any form of justice. Set in Arkansas, in the small town of Bigelow, a place seething with gossip, ignorance and judgementalism, Sugar arrives with hopes of starting afresh, but the townsfolk are far from welcoming of this newcomer, whom they regard with suspicion.

The sanctimonious Christian women do not see as one of them, judging and fearing her without knowing her, wanting her gone, but Sugar's presence is going to have a long lasting impact on the town. Sugar's harrowing and horrifying past is revealed in this riveting, emotionally hearbreaking novel, abandoned, never having experienced a childhood, deprived of love, the humiliations and the abuse. Pearl sees Jude in Sugar, both have gaping needs that somehow they fulfil in each other, finding the strength to come to terms with their haunting and tragic history. McFadden gives us strong, independent women, skilfully developing their characters to great effect and the world of pain and suffering that life had dealt them.

This is a intensely compulsive read, beautifully written, with twists and turns, of race, hate, murder, secrets, shame, and the power of friendship. and packing an unforgettable punch that left me reeling. Highly recommended. Many thanks to the publisher for the book.
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Very powerful, poignant, touching. I believe there is a sequel which I need to read because I can’t bare for the story to stop where it did! Many thanks to Netgalley for an arc of this book.
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I think I expected something more 'literary' whereas this is more of a popular page-turner. McFadden writes well on a sentence basis but this is more melodrama than I would usually read, and it feels overly signposted. Definite pointers back to 'Their Eyes Were Watching God' and 'Beloved' but in a lower key. Just a mismatch this time between book and reader, and plenty of people will love this.
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