A Girl Like Sugar is a standard coming of age story. You know: Girl meets Boy. Boy becomes famous rockstar. Boy can’t cope with fame. Boy overdoses. Boy’s ghost haunts Girl. Girl has to figure out how to have sex with the living. Or, as the Girl says herself:
A girl’s lover returns from the dead to haunt her, and she must confront the past in order to move forward to a fulfilling life. The story of one girl, the story of every girl.
It’s an apt metaphor, even if it isn’t necessarily a subtle one. Her past is dead; how will she live? Her name is Sugar, yet she is not sweet, she is not going to dissolve as the rain falls upon her. She feels detached from her life and so finds an interest in filmmaking, where she can watch life passing until she is drawn in by the things she sees. It all is logical and true to the character, if not surprising.
As a hip, twenty-somethings coming of age, there are the requisite references to pop culture (notably Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and a diverse cast of quirky supporting characters. Toronto is well-represented in the book, with references to local hangouts, such as Racho Relaxo. The characters are diverse in the way of the city’s left-leaning arts/activism scene, a rainbow of ethinic and sexual diversity.
Pohl-Weary’s writing is strong. She creates a thoroughly believable voice for her character. Sugar convincingly straddles disaffection and pain, strength and vulnerability, hipness and ordinariness. The scenes between her and her former lover are painfully real, while her encounters with a new potential love interest are familiarly awkward and tentative.
The book also straddles niches: Is it a “young adult” title or an adult title? As a young adult title, some of the frank sexuality might be controversial. (Should it be? Probably not. Would it be? Probably.) As an adult title, though, the book might be a little thin. The writing is excellent, but the story is nothing new in a landscape filled with stories about childhood’s ends and adulthood’s beginnings.
What is innovative is how perfectly the book captures its time and place. This is a double-edged sword, of course, because the book has the potential to become dated. What makes it real now could make it unreal in a year or two’s time.
Near the opening of the book, Sugar notes:
When your closest friend is a ghost, the thought of facing the living world is dreadful.
Sugar’s journey back into the living world is well-told if not revolutionary. If you like coming of age stories, A Girl Like Sugar is worth a look.
This book review originally appeared on Fourth-Rate Reader.