Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Book Review: Sugar Run, by Mesha Maren

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

The Rocklodge Motor Inn advertised air-conditioning but the nicotine-stained unit in Jodi’s room could muster only a slight lukewarm breeze. She propped open the windows, splashed cold water on her face, and added ice to her paper cup of bourbon. Unregulated, the hours already dripped like spit, and the cheap floral walls pulsed with indecision – you can do anything – no one’s watching, go out – don’t go out, you’ll fuck up – what’s your plan? Not since she was seventeen had she made any choice that sprang from her own free will entirely. At Jaxton she’d been preserved, safe from her own self. But now here it was, the weight of decision and consequence yoked about her neck again, making her lungs squeeze tight with each breath. She’d barely managed to order food at the Waffle House. The menu had overwhelmed her, and the waitress talked a string of jargon that made no sense.

While there was a feeling of doom throughout the main character’s story in Sugar Run, it was written so beautifully and thoughtfully that you could feel her hopeful emotions, even while knowing that each choice she made directed her further from the happy ending she said she still wanted.

Official Synopsis: 
Book Review: Sugar Run, by Mesha Maren
In 1989, Jodi McCarty is seventeen years old when she’s sentenced to life in prison. When she’s released eighteen years later, she finds herself at a Greyhound bus stop, reeling from the shock of unexpected freedom but determined to chart a better course for herself. Not yet able to return to her lost home in the Appalachian Mountains, she heads south in search of someone she left behind, as a way of finally making amends. There, she meets and falls in love with Miranda, a troubled young mother living in a motel room with her children. Together they head toward what they hope will be a fresh start. But what do you do with your past—and with a town and a family that refuses to forget, or to change?

Set within the charged insularity of rural West Virginia, Mesha Maren’s Sugar Run is a searing and gritty debut about making a break for another life, the use and treachery of makeshift families, and how, no matter the distance we think we’ve traveled from the mistakes we’ve made, too often we find ourselves standing in precisely the place we began.

Sugar Run is the story of Jodi’s release from prison after serving 18 years. She’s never been an adult who wasn’t behind bars. While reading alternating chapters between her old life in the late 1980s, and what’s happening in her life since her unexpected release in 2007, the choices she makes seem to make more sense for her, even though the reader can see them only leading to disaster.

The characters felt very real. I felt bad for Jodi and could see the lack of resources that led to her poor choices. I was mostly annoyed at Miranda, who seemed like she started off with more advantages than Jodi, but then chose wrong over right every time, and wallowed in self-pity at the consequences of her actions. I never knew what to think of Ricky, who seemed to not want anyone to really know his whole story.

There are some books that just stay with you, and this is one of those for me. I would love to see another book with Jodi’s continuing story after this debut novel. Overall, I’d give Sugar Run 3.5 out of 5 stars.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley has been blogging about her life in SE Michigan for more than 15 years at


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