Sugar Run
On the far side the view was nothing but ridgelines, the craggy silhouettes rising up against the night sky like the body of some dormant god. Jodi felt her breath go tight in her chest. This road went only one way, it seemed, in under the mountains until you were circled.In 1989, Jodi McCarty is seventeen years old when she’s sentenced to life in prison for manslaughter. She’s released eighteen years later and finds herself at a Greyhound bus stop, reeling from the shock of unexpected freedom. Not yet able to return to her lost home in the Appalachian mountains, she goes searching for someone she left behind, but on the way, she meets and falls in love with Miranda, a troubled young mother. Together, they try to make a fresh start, but is that even possible in a town that refuses to change? Set within the charged insularity of rural West Virginia, Sugar Run is a searing and gritty debut about making a run for another life.

Sugar Run Details

TitleSugar Run
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseJan 8th, 2019
PublisherAlgonquin Books
ISBN-139781616206215
Rating
GenreFiction, Lgbt, Contemporary, Literary Fiction

Sugar Run Review

  • Larry H
    January 1, 1970
    3.5 stars.There are some books which fill you with a sense of foreboding the minute you start reading them, sort of the way you may be poised to put your hands over your eyes when watching a scary movie—you know something bad will happen, but you just don't know when.That's the way I felt while reading Mesha Maren's Sugar Run . This novel about a woman's quest for a new beginning even though she quickly falls into all of her old habits isn't scary, but you can just feel that things could fall o 3.5 stars.There are some books which fill you with a sense of foreboding the minute you start reading them, sort of the way you may be poised to put your hands over your eyes when watching a scary movie—you know something bad will happen, but you just don't know when.That's the way I felt while reading Mesha Maren's Sugar Run . This novel about a woman's quest for a new beginning even though she quickly falls into all of her old habits isn't scary, but you can just feel that things could fall off the rails at any minute, and you wish it wouldn't. (Or at least I wished it wouldn't.)Jodi was sentenced to life in prison when she was 17 years old, in 1989. Unexpectedly, she is released 18 years later, and she has a plan for what to do with this newfound freedom: move back to her childhood home in rural West Virginia and live on her grandmother's land, where she spent the majority of her youth. But first, she is determined to fulfill a promise made before she went to prison: rescue the developmentally and emotionally challenged younger brother of an old friend."Coming home was like disappearing in a way, she thought, slipping back into the past. Until a week and a half ago she had thought she would not return here until death—a body shipped to a family that barely remembered it, a body to be laid back into the mountains to rest—but now here she was, not just a body but a jumble of wild thoughts and emotions, coming home."Less than 24 hours after being released from prison, heading to a small Georgia town, she encounters Miranda, a beautiful but troubled young mother of three, with a taste for pills and alcohol and a complicated relationship with her ex-husband, a once-famous singer. Despite every sign pointing her in the opposite direction, Jodi falls for Miranda, and the two begin planning a future that includes raising Miranda's children and her friend's brother back in Jodi's hometown. It seems almost too good to be true.But when they return home to West Virginia, nothing is quite as it seems. Jodi and Miranda's idyllic plans are quickly dashed, and it isn't long before Jodi finds herself caught up in her family's potentially dangerous dysfunction, which could send her back to prison, if not endanger her life. Helping care for four children—not to mention a flighty, unstable girlfriend—in an area where same-sex relationships are far from welcomed, leaves Jodi unsure of which end is up and what she should do next."She told herself this was different, this was new, but still she could feel the weight of those mountains, even unseen, the heaviness of all that familiarity."Can you ever truly outrun your mistakes and get a chance for a fresh start, even in the same old place? Where do you find the strength to recognize the signs that you're being pulled down again into another potentially destructive situation, even if there are glimpses of good amidst the chaos? Why doesn't anything work out the way you hope it will?Switching back and forth between the months leading up to Jodi's arrest and the present, following her release from prison, Sugar Run is a story of a woman searching for second chances but not looking very far, or thinking clearly about what the right decisions are. It's also a story of a woman who really had no chance given the environment in which she was raised, and returning to it doesn't seem like the smartest idea. But can you escape your past?While nothing horrible happens in the book, there are lots of close calls, and I still had this pervasive sense that everything could fall apart in a matter of minutes. Even though Jodi certainly is to blame for her own situation, the complexities that Maren has given her make her an appealing character despite her faults. She definitely knows how to tell a story and create an environment with tremendously vivid, evocative imagery.Strangely, given all of the tension I felt while reading the book, the pacing was very slow, almost plodding. I also wasn't sure what Maren was trying to say with her characters—was she saying it's okay to live life the way they did because of their circumstances, or was she simply depicting what happens all too often in impoverished, rural areas? Sugar Run is quite a debut novel, and it definitely hints at a promising career for Maren. She definitely gives her readers lots to think about!See all of my reviews at itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com, or check out my list of the best books I read in 2018 at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2019/01/the-best-books-i-read-in-2018.html. You can also follow me on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/yrralh/.
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  • Susanne Strong
    January 1, 1970
    3.75 Stars* (rounded up).There are times, when the cards are stacked against you. Be it of your own making or simply the cut of the deck on any given day. In “Sugar Run” - try as hard as she might, Jodi just can’t catch a break.Seventeen years ago, in 1989, Jodi was arrested for manslaughter. She spent eighteen years in prison and honestly never imagined she’d get out. Yet here she is. Her destination is her Grandmother’s Effie’s cabin in West Virginia - which her Grandmother left to Jodi as a l 3.75 Stars* (rounded up).There are times, when the cards are stacked against you. Be it of your own making or simply the cut of the deck on any given day. In “Sugar Run” - try as hard as she might, Jodi just can’t catch a break.Seventeen years ago, in 1989, Jodi was arrested for manslaughter. She spent eighteen years in prison and honestly never imagined she’d get out. Yet here she is. Her destination is her Grandmother’s Effie’s cabin in West Virginia - which her Grandmother left to Jodi as a little girl. Jodi has always imagined Effie’s cabin. Making a life there, the beauty, the simplicity, the peace and quiet. Mere minutes out of jail, Jodi meets Miranda, with her three kids in tow, on the run from her husband. Miranda is needy … needier than Jodi. An addict who takes one look at Jodi and sees hope and a way out. Simply put, Miranda replaces one addiction for another. On the way out of town, Jodi makes a stop. She picks up a young man named RIcky - he was just little boy when she saw him last. He is Paula’s son. Her former lover. And she made a promise to go back for him. For Jodi and her brood, things don’t quite go as planned - though they never do, do they? For Jodi, she can’t see past what she wants in life, what she thinks needs. Everyone has plans for her, plans which would get her into deep trouble, yet she doesn’t have the wherewithal to stop the wind from swirling around her. She can’t outrun her past and her mistakes must be atoned for. Though “Sugar Run” by Mesha Maren is a brilliant character study and I ached for Jodi to finally “get it,” I simply knew she wouldn’t. Not with the choices she kept on making. For Miranda, her path were clear from the beginning. At the end of the novel I was however left wanting, thoroughly disappointed. Thinking, that’s it? Really? Thus, for me, right here, right now, there is nothing left to say. Published on Goodreads on 1.20.19.
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  • Cheri
    January 1, 1970
    4.5 Stars”I was raised up from tinychildhood in those purple hills,right slam on the brink of language” -- Denis JohnsonThe women in the prison where Jodi is in residence have no idea what the landscape outside looked like, except the prison yard. As this story begins, Jodi is in the process of being released after eighteen years at Jaxton, she’d never known that there were mountains all around. “From the exercise yard she had seen only what was straight above, a sometimes gray, sometimes blue r 4.5 Stars”I was raised up from tinychildhood in those purple hills,right slam on the brink of language” -- Denis JohnsonThe women in the prison where Jodi is in residence have no idea what the landscape outside looked like, except the prison yard. As this story begins, Jodi is in the process of being released after eighteen years at Jaxton, she’d never known that there were mountains all around. “From the exercise yard she had seen only what was straight above, a sometimes gray, sometimes blue rectangular lid of sky. Mountains were a dream that had ended when the judge said life in prison. Mountains were far off, West Virginia, home.” Home for her is a land she hasn’t seen in many years, it’s where she was lived with Effie, her grandmother, until she was sixteen and Effie died. The land that her grandmother had left was so deeply a part of her, it held her memories, her moments spent with Effie when she was alive. It’s only natural that that land is where she wants to be once those doors open and she regains her freedom. It’s the connection to that time, her family. The land.The problem with wanting to revisit the past, relive all those wonderful moments are the other moments… the secrets you’d forgotten, or thought would stay hidden away. They have a tendency to pop up in the most unwelcome moments. When Jodi first meets Miranda Matheson, they recognize something in each other that feels familiar. A hunger for a better life, and a past filled with bad choices, especially in men. They bond over this, take some comfort in this. Miranda’s bad choice didn’t give her an 18-year prison sentence, but three young children and a bad marriage to a has-been musician, a former country music star. It isn’t long before Jodi is smitten by Miranda, and Miranda sees the gleam in Jodi’s eyes, and begins to see a future where she will be taken care of by Jodi. Jodi will help her get away from her husband, and soon they are on their way to the farm she inherited from her grandmother, with another young boy from an abusive home along. This novel skillfully weaves in and out of different timelines, one from 20 years before, and one in the almost present. While the essence of this is “grit-lit,” dark and gripping, it doesn’t cross the line into gross-lit. People do get hurt, blood may be spilled, but there are no gratuitous descriptions. I wanted to read this for its location, West Virginia, the background problems such as fracking, substance abuse, and the things the people in these towns face. My father was born and raised in West Virginia, as were both of his parents. I’ve been there; I still have cousins that live there, although I only met them as adults. It’s beautiful country, a little less manicured than where I grew up, but I’ve been extended such lovely and genuine hospitality when I’ve been there, that I view it with love. This is also the birthplace of the author, Mesha Maren, and out of her knowledge and love of the Appalachian area, and the knowledge gained by her father’s work with the Alderson Hospitality House, a nonprofit that cares and supports the women in the federal prison in Alderson, WV a story grew. Out of her life there, and her frequent visits to the Hospitality House at his side as a young girl she was able to create a riveting story. What Maren has produced from that knowledge, those memories and her obvious talent is this impressive debut novel. A beautifully fashioned Southern noir story that will keep you completely engaged from beginning to end, not to be missed. Pub Date: 08 JAN 2019Many thanks for the ARC provided by Algonquin Books
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  • Shelby *trains flying monkeys*
    January 1, 1970
    Good Lort. I am finally done with this book!!!!!!!This is an actual picture of me for the last 2 months reading it. That's right. Two months.So you have Jodi who is just getting out of prison. She was convicted of manslaughter and has finally got the freedom call. She keeps thinking about some land she supposedly has in West Virginia..so she is going to head towards that. (Do I sound bored?? WELL I AM..that's all this book is going to get)But first...right after she is released from prison she i Good Lort. I am finally done with this book!!!!!!!This is an actual picture of me for the last 2 months reading it. That's right. Two months.So you have Jodi who is just getting out of prison. She was convicted of manslaughter and has finally got the freedom call. She keeps thinking about some land she supposedly has in West Virginia..so she is going to head towards that. (Do I sound bored?? WELL I AM..that's all this book is going to get)But first...right after she is released from prison she is traveling through Georgia and a small town that happens to be real is named dropped. Then there is a bus station there? I know it's a little thing but the author using a real town and not even checking her facts just bugged me. Make up a dang town if you don't have the few minutes to Google. Then she picks up a girlfriend and the girlfriends kids. Oh wait and her girlfriend that she was convicted of killing? She goes and gets her brother too.Now we headed to West Virginia. You would think with this many characters that something would happen wouldn't you?????? IT FRIGGING DOES NOT!Nothing happens. This whole stinking book has nothing happening. You think at times that something will...but then nope.GOOD GRIEF to peanut butter!!!! I don't have much time to read so now when I do manage to finish a book it needs to be good. I'm going back to my regularly scheduled programming...…… Because it's way more entertaining that this pile of paper!!Booksource: I was given this book to read from the publisher. I hope they don't hate me.
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  • ♥ Sandi ❣
    January 1, 1970
    3 stars Thank you to NetGalley and Algonquin Books for the chance to read and review this ARC. Publication date January 8, 2019. I am not sure exactly what it was that I was expecting or waiting for in this book, but it never seemed to materialize. For a debut novel there was plenty of action in the story, some good character development and a plausible plot, but for me it just missed the mark. The story of a young Appalachian girl imprisoned for manslaughter. Once released she headed home to cl 3 stars Thank you to NetGalley and Algonquin Books for the chance to read and review this ARC. Publication date January 8, 2019. I am not sure exactly what it was that I was expecting or waiting for in this book, but it never seemed to materialize. For a debut novel there was plenty of action in the story, some good character development and a plausible plot, but for me it just missed the mark. The story of a young Appalachian girl imprisoned for manslaughter. Once released she headed home to claim the land that had been in her family for generations, only to find that the homestead had been sold out from under her and the mountain was deeply involved in the fracking process. Hooking up with a tumultuous group of people, Jodie was never at peace. I didn't care for the abrupt ending of the story and felt that there were still strings left dangling. I came away from this novel unfulfilled and a bit disappointed.
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  • Jessica Woodbury
    January 1, 1970
    I usually try to work through my galleys in the order I receive them, so I started reading SUGAR RUN when I found myself awake in the middle of the night and unable to go back to sleep. When I read the first few pages and realized that this was a lyrical novel with lovely prose and a loose plot about a woman who's just been released from prison, I thought maybe I should put it down and read something else. But I ended up reading it for a couple of hours in the middle of the night, and for days a I usually try to work through my galleys in the order I receive them, so I started reading SUGAR RUN when I found myself awake in the middle of the night and unable to go back to sleep. When I read the first few pages and realized that this was a lyrical novel with lovely prose and a loose plot about a woman who's just been released from prison, I thought maybe I should put it down and read something else. But I ended up reading it for a couple of hours in the middle of the night, and for days afterwards, and finished reading it in a bar surrounded by music and big tv screens, so you could say it took me by surprise with its quiet force.I thought this would be the kind of book where not much happens, but I was wrong. An awful lot happens in this book, even if the first third is loose and meandering. I was entranced by Jodie, who went to prison for killing her girlfriend when she was only a teenager. Jodie knows the hard truths of the world but she survives on optimism that she can put right two wrongs: that she never got to do the one thing she and her girlfriend Paula planned to do, save Paula's little brother; and that she reclaim the land her grandmother left her in West Virginia coal country. Early in her quest, Jodie meets Miranda, a sunny and sad woman who has lost custody of her children. Jodie and Miranda are an unlikely pair and yet they find in each other something they haven't been able to find before, and they set out to create the new, better life they both dream of.You shouldn't need me to tell you that it doesn't go according to plan, and that is where the book picks up narrative speed. Ricky, Paula's brother, is now an adult but not able to live on his own and Jodie doesn't really understand who he is and what traumas he's faced. Jodie has to face the realities of being out, being on parole, and trying to make a life for her new family in a world that doesn't want convicted felons to have a life, in a place where the families who have lived there for generations are being removed from their land for fracking. Everything is crumbling, but Jodie tries so hard to keep it all running. We also see flashbacks of Jodie's life with Paula, ultimately leading to the answer to the question of why Jodie killed her.This is a beautifully written novel that cares deeply about its characters, though it's not the kind of book that is going to interpret their actions for you. Jodie and Miranda don't always understand why they do what they do, much of it is instinct or habit or addiction. I particularly enjoyed seeing the queer women in this book without having their queerness at the center of the story. It is a big part of the story, like any relationship would be, and the suspicions and obstacles queer people can face in small towns are part of the story, too. Feeling for Jodie, watching her try so hard, but seeing how despite her efforts everything falls through her fingers like sand was mesmerizing and heartbreaking.
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  • Nancy
    January 1, 1970
    From the beginning, I had the feeling that things were not going to turn out well for Jodi.After serving eighteen years of a lifetime prison sentence, Jodi is free under supervised release. The jails are overcrowded, and she was only seventeen when convicted of killing her girlfriend Paula. She is given a bus ticket and sent into the world to report to her home district parole officer.But Jodi instead takes a bus in the other direction, to save Paula's younger brother Ricky from their abusive fa From the beginning, I had the feeling that things were not going to turn out well for Jodi.After serving eighteen years of a lifetime prison sentence, Jodi is free under supervised release. The jails are overcrowded, and she was only seventeen when convicted of killing her girlfriend Paula. She is given a bus ticket and sent into the world to report to her home district parole officer.But Jodi instead takes a bus in the other direction, to save Paula's younger brother Ricky from their abusive father. Jodi meets Miranda, a needy young mother of three who latches onto Jodi like a drowning woman to a life raft. This makeshift family--Miranda, her boys, and Ricky--travel with Jodi to her home in the Appalachian mountains where she hopes they can find a refuge. They move into Jodi's grandmother's abandoned cabin. As the fracking operation pushes closer to them, Jodi's brothers draw her into their illegal activities and Miranda slips back to pills, while questions rise about Ricky.In Sugar Run by Mesha Maren, an ominous cloud compelled me to turn pages. Backstory chapters reveal Jodi's story, and Miranda's and Ricky's stories are unraveled. It appears that their futures are mired in decisions made long ago. The story ends with violence and heartache, but also with hope as Jodi realizes there is a future beyond home and it's web to the past.This is an impressive first novel with memorable characters and polished writing.I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.Read an excerpt athttps://d17lzgq6gc2tox.cloudfront.net...There is something essential and powerful that keeps me coming back, andI feel like Jodi and I both realized at some point that although the homeyou’ve recalled so vividly during all your years away is a place that only trulyexists in your heart and your dreams, it will always be inextricably a part ofwho you are.from Montani Semper Liberi, an essay by Mesha Maren
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  • Libby
    January 1, 1970
    ‘Sugar Run’ by Mesha Maren is her debut novel about thirty-five-year-old Jodi McCarty, released from Jaxton Prison after serving eighteen years. Jodi isn’t placed on a reentry program; just supervised release with scheduled check-ins with a parole officer. As Jodi leaves the prison where she’s been an inmate for the last eighteen years, she sees mountains and realizes that she never knew they existed, having seen only the flatness of her exercise yard. This is a very deep foreshadowing by the au ‘Sugar Run’ by Mesha Maren is her debut novel about thirty-five-year-old Jodi McCarty, released from Jaxton Prison after serving eighteen years. Jodi isn’t placed on a reentry program; just supervised release with scheduled check-ins with a parole officer. As Jodi leaves the prison where she’s been an inmate for the last eighteen years, she sees mountains and realizes that she never knew they existed, having seen only the flatness of her exercise yard. This is a very deep foreshadowing by the author that Jodi will later bring to remembrance, symbolizing the way our perspective is skewed by both our environment and patterns of thinking. Maren’s novel runs on two timelines; August 1988 thru June 1989, which follows Jodi in the beauty and heartache of her love affair with card shark and con, Paula Dulett, and July 2007 through September 2007, the aftermath of Jodi’s prison release and her attempts to rescue Paula’s brother, Ricky, now twenty-eight, and the forlorn Miranda Golden, in the process of a break-up with her husband, former celebrity singer Lee Golden. Maren beautifully builds suspense in both timelines. Because Jodi has been in prison, we know that the 88-89 timeline is going to end badly. In a way, Jodi is an innocent, sheltered from knowledge of the world by her long time in prison. Maren doesn’t expound on this, but presents it to the reader in Jodi’s expectations and the way Jodi experiences the world. Abandoned at age seven by her parents to the care of her grandmother, Effie, Jodi is the very definition of an at-risk child. Only sixteen when Effie dies, there is no-one to rush in and fill the deficit of the only selfless love Jodi has ever known. Upon her prison release, the only support she has is the four hundred dollars her mother sends, a loan from her twin brothers and her father’s disability check. Like a homing pigeon, Jodi makes for the town where she was born in West Virginia. Along the way, Jodi tries to rescue Ricky, and then Miranda, with her brood of three little boys. She realizes she’s trying to build the family she hasn’t had since Effie died. When she begins to fall in love with Miranda, unforeseen complications abound. As Jodi is trying to find work and build a life for herself, I realize how marginalized the life of a felon is. The odds are truly stacked against them. When legitimate ways of making a living aren’t available, where does the ex-prisoner turn? This novel is somewhat depressing. Because the number of people in prisons has grown so much, I can’t help but think of how many real-life stories there are that are similar in tone to this one. That doesn’t change the crimes, the pain inflicted, or the tragedy for many children who have a parent in prison. Mesha Maren is a truly gifted writer, however, and I was definitely buoyed by her gorgeous use of language. Very raw at times; at others, stunning with a metaphor or cutting with an illuminating quality that shone off the page. I felt Jodi’s heart path, her longing, her hopes. I wished the best for her. The significance of Maren’s last sentence is a little pop of an epiphany, a very satisfying ending.
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  • Marjorie
    January 1, 1970
    Jodi McCarty is out of jail, after having spent 18 years imprisoned for manslaughter. She has only two things in mind – rescue her old lover’s brother, Ricky, from his abusive father and then go home to the land in West Virginia that her grandmother, Effie, left her. As she sets out to do that, she meets and falls in love with Miranda. Miranda has her own problems. She’s estranged from her husband, a washed-up singer, who has taken her three sons from her. Jodi and Miranda help each other and be Jodi McCarty is out of jail, after having spent 18 years imprisoned for manslaughter. She has only two things in mind – rescue her old lover’s brother, Ricky, from his abusive father and then go home to the land in West Virginia that her grandmother, Effie, left her. As she sets out to do that, she meets and falls in love with Miranda. Miranda has her own problems. She’s estranged from her husband, a washed-up singer, who has taken her three sons from her. Jodi and Miranda help each other and before long, she and now grown-up Ricky and Miranda and her three sons are living at Effie’s old home. Jodi is determined to build a better life for them all here on her grandmother’s land. Ms. Maren is quite an accomplished writer and immediately pulled me into this intriguing story. A lot happens in this book and the plot covers small town bigotry, the awful destruction brought on by fracking, substance abuse, poverty, the love of land and the shifting of love. The language can be tough at times but that’s the type of book it is – gritty and raw and earthy. The language can also be stunningly beautiful. I admit that I was often turned off and angered by the decisions made by these characters, especially since children were involved. But then I’d see glimpses of the hope in Jodi’s heart and wanted things to work out for all of them.I found this one hard to put down and am looking forward to seeing what’s next from this author. Recommended.This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.
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  • Margo Littell
    January 1, 1970
    At seventeen, Jodi was imprisoned for what she’s always maintained was a gun accident that left her girlfriend, Paula, dead. Now, released after serving eighteen years of her sentence, Jodi is free. She meets a wayward single mother, Miranda, who is barely managing to care for herself and three young sons. Miranda agrees to help Jodi keep the promise she made to Paula years ago: to rescue Paula’s little brother, Ricky, from their violent father. Of course, Ricky is no longer a scared child--he’s At seventeen, Jodi was imprisoned for what she’s always maintained was a gun accident that left her girlfriend, Paula, dead. Now, released after serving eighteen years of her sentence, Jodi is free. She meets a wayward single mother, Miranda, who is barely managing to care for herself and three young sons. Miranda agrees to help Jodi keep the promise she made to Paula years ago: to rescue Paula’s little brother, Ricky, from their violent father. Of course, Ricky is no longer a scared child--he’s a grown man with anger and secrets of his own. This mismatched group returns to Jodi’s family land in West Virginia, even though the land isn’t actually hers any longer. Fracking is decimating the landscape; Jodi’s brother seems hell-bent on derailing her parole; and, despite her best intentions, Jodi finds herself wrestling with the fact that some people are not meant to be saved.The ravaged land Jodi loves deftly echoes the scarred, damaged breadth of her own life. Time and again she opens herself up to love, only to be disappointed by others and herself. The beauty of the prose in Sugar Run offsets the blunt, harsh lives these characters blunder through, but the unsettling community forged by Jodi and the others is no guarantee of easier roads ahead.***Review originally written for the City Book Review. I received a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.***
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  • Rhiannon Johnson
    January 1, 1970
    Check out my full review on my blog: http://ivoryowlreviews.blogspot.com/2...You know how I kept bitching about the repackaged and mass-produced mediocre stories that publishers are throwing mega marketing dollars at in hopes that some of it sticks and people will say they love it "because everyone else does"? Well...I just finished Sugar Run and *BOOM*...finally, a book with a backbone! In the vein of Daniel Woodrell's Winter's Bone or Laura McHugh's Weight of Blood (read my review of Weight of Check out my full review on my blog: http://ivoryowlreviews.blogspot.com/2...You know how I kept bitching about the repackaged and mass-produced mediocre stories that publishers are throwing mega marketing dollars at in hopes that some of it sticks and people will say they love it "because everyone else does"? Well...I just finished Sugar Run and *BOOM*...finally, a book with a backbone! In the vein of Daniel Woodrell's Winter's Bone or Laura McHugh's Weight of Blood (read my review of Weight of Blood in The Glory Tree Herald here), Sugar Run is rural-noir at its gritty best. Full of characters scrambling to survive at the edges of society and its expectations, Sugar Run is pushed forward with a dual storyline: the first following seventeen-year-old Jodi and her girlfriend Paula through a downward spiral of drug-fueled poker binges in 1988 and the 2nd following Jodi's release from prison in 2007. Sugar Run is a glimpse into the shadows of rural Appalachia's underbelly, from the steady encroachment of a fracking operation (and its numerous seedy satellite industries) onto land that has been family-owned for generations to the daily minutiae of that land's poverty-stricken inhabitants. Mesha Maren's prose alternates between razor sharp statements that cut to the bone and descriptions that will sit heavy on your heart and mind. This is a definite 5 star read from me! If you are ready for a book that is a detour from the mainstream monotony and you want to actually feel something--Sugar Run is for you!
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  • Jessica Sullivan
    January 1, 1970
    At the heart of this gritty debut is a damaged woman seeking redemption. Jodi has just been released from prison after 18 years. Her goal is to return home to land she grew up on in the Appalachian mountains, but not until she finds Ricky, the mentally disabled younger brother of her former lover, Paula.Along the way, she meets Miranda, a young mother of three boys who has faced her own set of challenges. Together, they seek to build a life together, though there’s a sense that they’re doomed fr At the heart of this gritty debut is a damaged woman seeking redemption. Jodi has just been released from prison after 18 years. Her goal is to return home to land she grew up on in the Appalachian mountains, but not until she finds Ricky, the mentally disabled younger brother of her former lover, Paula.Along the way, she meets Miranda, a young mother of three boys who has faced her own set of challenges. Together, they seek to build a life together, though there’s a sense that they’re doomed from the very start—weighed down by their circumstances and the demons from their past.Sugar Run alternates between this present storyline and Jodi’s past life with Paula, unraveling the details of what happened between the two of them and why Jodi landed herself in prison for manslaughter.I liked how this novel centered women who are in many ways the product of their unfortunate circumstances without making excuses for their actions. Maren keeps the perspective objective, unsentimental and without judgment, similarity to The Mars Room. That said, there was something that kept me from ever becoming fully invested in these characters. The plot moves forward slowly and without a lot of tension. I wasn’t always convinced by the main characters’ choices and interactions, nor did I find all of the side characters necessary.There’s promise here, for sure. The themes and tone are there, but the lack of focus and narrative tension kept it from reaching its full potential.*Thanks to Algonquin Books for this ARC!*
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  • Stacey A. Prose and Palate
    January 1, 1970
    "After school I used to go on these walks," Miranda said. "We lived in this subdivision, one of those with the houses with fake shutters glued up beside all of the windows and they were always building new homes. But down at the end of my road everything turned to fields, just big, blank, muddy fields. And I used to walk. I'd go to the dead end and find a leaf or grass. I'd hold it up and let the wind take it, and whatever direction it blew, that's where I'd go. I knew if I kept walking long eno "After school I used to go on these walks," Miranda said. "We lived in this subdivision, one of those with the houses with fake shutters glued up beside all of the windows and they were always building new homes. But down at the end of my road everything turned to fields, just big, blank, muddy fields. And I used to walk. I'd go to the dead end and find a leaf or grass. I'd hold it up and let the wind take it, and whatever direction it blew, that's where I'd go. I knew if I kept walking long enough, eventually, I would feel it. Something would click and I'd fit."The despair felt by the characters in Sugar Run leaps out from the pages and it is an unflinching, honest look at a young woman who has been released back in to the world after spending almost two decades behind bars. When Jodi gets out of prison she has no job skills, no family to welcome her home, and no prospects for employment given that she is a convicted felon. She wants desperately to make a better life for herself but how? Maren explores themes of addiction, domestic violence and the ugliness that is experienced by so many of the LGBTQ community living in small towns in the South. Her writing is raw and haunting and Jodi has stayed with me even though I finished this book several days ago. Many thanks to Algonquin books for sending an early copy to me in exchange for my honest review.
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  • Neville Longbottom
    January 1, 1970
    At seventeen years old Jodi McCarty was sentenced to life in prison. Eighteen years later in 2007 she’s released, giving her the freedom she never thought she’d have again. She goes looking for the brother of an old girlfriend and strikes up a relationship with a new woman as she tries to make a life outside of prison. I definitely think there are some good parts to this book, but it didn’t end up working for me overall. I was expecting there to be way more of a focus on Jodi adjusting to how mu At seventeen years old Jodi McCarty was sentenced to life in prison. Eighteen years later in 2007 she’s released, giving her the freedom she never thought she’d have again. She goes looking for the brother of an old girlfriend and strikes up a relationship with a new woman as she tries to make a life outside of prison. I definitely think there are some good parts to this book, but it didn’t end up working for me overall. I was expecting there to be way more of a focus on Jodi adjusting to how much the world changed in the time she was in prison. Massive changes happened from 1989 to 2007 but that wasn’t really touched upon. I was also expecting there to be more of a focus on her adjusting to her newfound freedom. This isn’t a plot based novel, it’s very slow and meandering. But I also wouldn’t really call it a character study either. I still don’t really feel like I know Jodi or Miranda that well. Even though we see them in the present and in flashbacks, I don’t think I understand them that deeply. I did think the book was well written, and that the reveal of what Jodi did to end up in prison was executed well. I look forward to reading more books from Mesha Maren in the future, especially if she continues to write about queer women in Appalachia.
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  • Jenn Conwell
    January 1, 1970
    Thank you Algonquin Books for sending me a copy in exchange for my honest review.This story is about Jodi who has just gotten out of prison after serving 18 years there. She’s faced with a tough battle to try and stay out of harms way, even though it’s seemingly proving itself hard to do. She's traveling down south to make ammends with someone connected to her previous crime before she was arrested. Along the way, she meets and falls in love with Miranda. This book touches on drugs, domestic abu Thank you Algonquin Books for sending me a copy in exchange for my honest review.This story is about Jodi who has just gotten out of prison after serving 18 years there. She’s faced with a tough battle to try and stay out of harms way, even though it’s seemingly proving itself hard to do. She's traveling down south to make ammends with someone connected to her previous crime before she was arrested. Along the way, she meets and falls in love with Miranda. This book touches on drugs, domestic abuse, lgbtq relationships, fracking, prison life, you name it! Prepare to get your heart torn in a million pieces. It's focus on heavy life topics is like none other.This a lyrical novel written with beautiful prose. It was elegant to read, but I felt that the storyline itself could have been a bit stronger. I felt lost in the translation in some places. This novel brings up topics that I feel most other writers would purposefully steer away from, and for that I give immense credit and gratitude to Mesha. This one is going to spark some great conversation, I am sure of it. Also, be sure to check out her interview from NPR to get a background of how this story came about (it’s super cool).3/5 StarsFrom my blog and instagram account @livereadandprosper
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  • Kristin-Leigh
    January 1, 1970
    (I received a free copy of this book from the publisher based on my review of another excellent novel with a non-linear plot about women who commit crimes, Emily Ruskovich's Idaho. They picked their audience well, I really loved this!)In the vocabulary of this novel, a "sugar run" is a winning streak - a stretch of incredible luck before a crash. Jodi, a lesbian in hostile territory, carries the reader through what one could call two sugar runs - one in the past that we know from the start ended (I received a free copy of this book from the publisher based on my review of another excellent novel with a non-linear plot about women who commit crimes, Emily Ruskovich's Idaho. They picked their audience well, I really loved this!)In the vocabulary of this novel, a "sugar run" is a winning streak - a stretch of incredible luck before a crash. Jodi, a lesbian in hostile territory, carries the reader through what one could call two sugar runs - one in the past that we know from the start ended with Jodi in prison and her lover dead, and one we just have to ride to its conclusion. What's most striking is how distinctly the author captures and uses the sense of risk/danger a gay woman (or any member of "controversial" minority groups) carries constantly - the fear of the unknown lurking under the surface of every person, the fact that gut instinct isn't foolproof and the nicest people hide prejudices and fetishes that could harm. The novel is built on that danger! Jodi is never able to truly know what's in others' hearts, and all of the traps in this book are buried inside her closest family and friends, waiting for the smallest misstep to trigger.
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  • Tess
    January 1, 1970
    Just finished Sugar Run by Mesha Maren and trying to catch my breath again. It is a beautiful, epic novel about redemption, rebuilding, and the ups and downs of trying to create your own family.
  • M.A. Barrett
    January 1, 1970
    I was all in on this book from page one. I felt every word. What a beautiful, painful exploration of redemption and shame. Jodi, who went to jail in her late teens for murder, is suddenly out of jail and needs to get to WV to find her dead lover's younger brother to get him out of an abusive situation. She finds Miranda, a pill-popping woman/child and her three boys instead and they set out on a journey that becomes something of a ramshackle life as they make their way to Jodi's grandmother's fo I was all in on this book from page one. I felt every word. What a beautiful, painful exploration of redemption and shame. Jodi, who went to jail in her late teens for murder, is suddenly out of jail and needs to get to WV to find her dead lover's younger brother to get him out of an abusive situation. She finds Miranda, a pill-popping woman/child and her three boys instead and they set out on a journey that becomes something of a ramshackle life as they make their way to Jodi's grandmother's forgotten farm land. SUGAR RUN feels like the novel version of HILLBILLY ELEGY meets BASTARD OUT OF CAROLINA, mixed with a little BOYS DON'T CRY, for good measure. I love the imagery of the land and the time and the people. Maren has a way with making you feel like you're in the land with the characters. As a New Englander who lived for many years in the south and whose grandfather was from WV, everything about the broken, poor white folks and their landscape spoke to my soul. It's dark. Be forewarned, there aren't a lot of happy moments. This is gritty and real and every languid page made me feel anxious for what was to come. I was waiting for the characters to fuck up. They do so spectacularly, but sometimes with some grace and lessons learned here and there. I disagree completely with the reviews that nothing happens in this book or that there's no plot. I felt as though something was coming with the turn of every page and the plot is subtle, which makes it a gorgeous book, because you're not waiting for the hook. You just need to see these characters through to their destination. Well worth your time. I finished it during an ice storm, which seems appropriate.
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  • Paul
    January 1, 1970
    The Lesbian Crime Novel has become a genre (how I wish Patricia Highsmith was alive to see it!), and this is a pretty good entry. Ms. Maren has concocted a pretty sad, downbeat narrative about Jodi, an ex-convict trying and for the most part failing to straighten out her life as she hooks up with the drug-addicted estranged wife of a washed-up country singer, absconds with her new lover's three young children, then lures her dead girlfriend's mentally unbalanced younger brother away from home so The Lesbian Crime Novel has become a genre (how I wish Patricia Highsmith was alive to see it!), and this is a pretty good entry. Ms. Maren has concocted a pretty sad, downbeat narrative about Jodi, an ex-convict trying and for the most part failing to straighten out her life as she hooks up with the drug-addicted estranged wife of a washed-up country singer, absconds with her new lover's three young children, then lures her dead girlfriend's mentally unbalanced younger brother away from home so they can try to cobble together some sort of family on her family's long-abandoned farm, which has been sold for back taxes and is about to be fracked into a wasteland. No, Jodi does not make a lot of good decisions. But Ms. Maren understands her characters so well, and she relates this backwoods odyssey in such lyrical language, that the reader is praying for Jodi to make one smart choice to reverse her downward spiral, even as the author builds an airtight case for the unlikeliness of such an epiphany. Not an easy read, but a rewarding one.
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  • Ed
    January 1, 1970
    Excited about Mesha Maren's forthcoming book, I read a NetGalley copy and said I'd give an honest review, get this book -Jodi has spent more than half her life in prison, this book begins the day she is released. Part of her is stuck in what happened, she's drawn to old haunts of motels, women, roadside bars, and card tables until she can get home to a cabin in a West Virginia. What's hard about prison is that while the mountains and the people changed, Jodi hasn't. Characters cast long shadows Excited about Mesha Maren's forthcoming book, I read a NetGalley copy and said I'd give an honest review, get this book -Jodi has spent more than half her life in prison, this book begins the day she is released. Part of her is stuck in what happened, she's drawn to old haunts of motels, women, roadside bars, and card tables until she can get home to a cabin in a West Virginia. What's hard about prison is that while the mountains and the people changed, Jodi hasn't. Characters cast long shadows that stretch towards cultural touchstones like Aileen Wuornos or George Jones and Tammy Wynette. For anyone who's ever sought refuge from judgment, this is a tender, relatable Southern road novel longing for and loyal to the idea of a home place and loving relationships, about mountain people and a working class family being seen.
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  • Geonn Cannon
    January 1, 1970
    I'm not really a big fan of bleak, dark, noir stories like this one, but it was very well written and kept me invested. It's also another example of a book that has a Very Important Event that takes place in the main character's past, but it tells us via alternating flashback chapters so that the book ends with the reveal of what actually happened. It's like a book being spliced with its prequel.
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  • Susan Doyle
    January 1, 1970
    A Good TaleWell written. Good characters. Sad story but very believable especially how ill equipped former prisoners are for sustainable life after prison. The evil brothers, constant drug and alcohol abuse were over the top for me. Seemed almost superfluous.
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  • Joe
    January 1, 1970
    I found this book to be a huge disappointment. The narrative moves back and forth following Jodi before and after her release from prison.The story is confusing at best and extremely unsatisfying. As I reached the end, I questioned why I had continued to read on. I have no satisfactory answer.
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  • Briana
    January 1, 1970
    I absolutely LOVED this book. It grabbed my attention right away and entangled me in the lives of the main characters. I couldn't stop reading unless I had to go to work or sleep but I kept thinking about the next time I could read this book again. I can't wait to meet the author tomorrow and tell her just how beautiful this book was.
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  • Adam Samuel Martin
    January 1, 1970
    lots of hype but pretty mediocre. read “the mars room” instead
  • Jennifer
    January 1, 1970
    This book will give you a run for your money. Don’t expect anything but the unexpected- what else could you, when you’re dealing with an ex-convict, two new lovers and a promise that still needs to be fulfilled 18 years after it was made? I just have to say- this is one of the most unique stories I read in 2018– there are many complex layers and I really appreciated the depth of the writing.
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  • Carol
    January 1, 1970
    Jodi has just been released from 18 years in prison and is looking for Ricky before she moves back with her family. 10% of the way into the book and already there were too many "ain't gonna's' for my taste and I had to stop reading. Thank you NetGalley for an advance reader copy in exchange for an honest opinion.
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  • Casey
    January 1, 1970
    Thanks to Algonquin Books for providing me with a free e-ARC via NetGalley.At 17, Jodi McCarty was sentenced to life in prison for manslaughter. 18 years later she finds herself suddenly released. She tries to return home to West Virginia, falling in love with young mother Miranda along the way and trying to escape the way her past always seems to circle back on her. This book, y’all. How is it not in everyone’s hands yet? Maren captures the simultaneous freedom and oppression of rural life with Thanks to Algonquin Books for providing me with a free e-ARC via NetGalley.At 17, Jodi McCarty was sentenced to life in prison for manslaughter. 18 years later she finds herself suddenly released. She tries to return home to West Virginia, falling in love with young mother Miranda along the way and trying to escape the way her past always seems to circle back on her. This book, y’all. How is it not in everyone’s hands yet? Maren captures the simultaneous freedom and oppression of rural life with writing that is beautifully lush, yet never flowery. SUGAR RUN has the most solid sense of place I’ve seen in a long time, nailing that way summer in Appalachia can close in on you. You feel submerged in that heat and trapped in the past with Jodi. This book is all about cycles and patterns and that slow realization that you may never escape the path you’re on. Some readers may find themselves frustrated with the way life seems to happen to Jodi, but to me it rang true with the way people’s options are narrowed with every system working against them: the prison system, parole, rural economies, drug trade, homophobia. The way Jodi felt the “choiceless” life of prison followed her out was so visceral. Then add to that how unequipped she was to live as an adult outside of prison for the first time - she may be repeating patterns but she was also set up to fail on multiple fronts, and it was so painful to watch that spool out slowly. (Note: I think this book might make a good pairing with DOPESICK if you want the nonfiction version of this story). My heart broke over and over again for the ways each person lost control of their lives, from Jodi as a manipulated teenager to Miranda’s unhappy marriage to little Kaleb witnessing these dysfunctions. Cycles repeating across lives, families, and generations. I know it’s so early, but I think SUGAR RUN could be a top book of the year contender for me.
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  • Cori
    January 1, 1970
    Pour yourself some whiskey and put on some Johnny Cash. With her lyrical cadence and colorful descriptions, Maren establishes a strong sense of place allowing a vicarious experience of the steamy, oppressive Southern heat and culture. The stories of how Miranda and Jodi lost their way and found each other are so compelling you willingly take the journey with them watching their past lives unravel while their present lives intersect and begin to intertwine. Beyond their attraction for each other, Pour yourself some whiskey and put on some Johnny Cash. With her lyrical cadence and colorful descriptions, Maren establishes a strong sense of place allowing a vicarious experience of the steamy, oppressive Southern heat and culture. The stories of how Miranda and Jodi lost their way and found each other are so compelling you willingly take the journey with them watching their past lives unravel while their present lives intersect and begin to intertwine. Beyond their attraction for each other, Miranda and Jodi share the experience of navigating the haunting ripple effects of impetuous and doomed decisions made at age seventeen that chased them into the present. As the tension increases, you start questioning whether their dreams for the future can ever be realized. When you count the cards and realize the odds are against you, do you fold or do you keep playing and hope for a different future than what is predicted for you? I didn't know something could feel gritty, wistful, and hopeful all at the same time.Themes:
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  • Annie
    January 1, 1970
    It is difficult, if not impossible, for newly released convicts to get back on their feet after their sentences. The lucky ones find jobs and have support networks. Unlucky ones, like Jodi in Mesha Maren’s Sugar Run, have no guidance after they are set at liberty. All Jodi has is an appointment with a parole officer, a $400 loan from her family, and a self-imposed mission to find a friend from eighteen years prior with whom she has unfinished business. Jodi was a very young girl when she went in It is difficult, if not impossible, for newly released convicts to get back on their feet after their sentences. The lucky ones find jobs and have support networks. Unlucky ones, like Jodi in Mesha Maren’s Sugar Run, have no guidance after they are set at liberty. All Jodi has is an appointment with a parole officer, a $400 loan from her family, and a self-imposed mission to find a friend from eighteen years prior with whom she has unfinished business. Jodi was a very young girl when she went in, with no advanced education or job skills; she was in prison for longer than she was free. All that said, I think any reader can agree that the choices Jodi makes after she finishes her sentence are definitely not the right choices...Read the rest of my review at A Bookish Type. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.
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