Friday, October 26, 2007

Sugar Highs (and Lows)

I was intrigued to search out The Candy Darlings after reading a column by author Christine Walde in Quill and Quire (September 2007). She described her book as being pretty edgy ("It had sex. Drug use. Drinking. Violence, both physical and psychological. Not to mention torture.") I was intrigued, particularly because we were discussing in class how dark YA fiction can get. And this is pretty dark. Edgy, gritty, rife with mean, sneaky girls and teenaged angst.

Our protagonist -- who remains nameless throughout -- moves to a new neighbourhood after the death of her mother. Her father is emotionally distant, but she is happy to have a clean slate and only wants to fit in. She can't stomach candy because one of the last images she has of her mother was with a slow intravenous drip, which she describes being like sugar water. (Her aversion to candy did change, rather abruptly I felt. It didn't ring quite true to me.) At first she does fit in, with the popular (but uber nasty) clique of three girls. Things turn when Megan Chalmers comes to town. Megan couldn't care less about fitting in and maximizes her shock value (both in behaviour and appearance). Her background is mysterious and she periodically disappears throughout the book. Megan and our no-name gal bond and it becomes, predictably, but true to reality I believe, a great set up for a teen girl turf war, with all its nastiness and sneakiness and back stabbing. Megan is continually popping candy and each chapter is named as such (Astro Pop, Fun Dip, etc.)

I enjoyed the book, but have to say that I found it bogged down near the end, particularly when the girls become candy stripers (which seemed a bit out of character, except that they did it partially to gain access to their beloved candy) and befriend an elderly woman who also loves candy. This woman begins a rambling tale, told to the girls in parts at each visit. I found myself drifting from time to time at this point, but it comes together for a satisfying conclusion, and even leaves us wanting a bit more. A few things unresolved, but that didn't bother me. I did crave red licorice when I was done though.

A few reviews here: Canadian Materials and Quill and Quire.

Here's a little bit from the Quill and Quire piece by Walde where she explains how the story began:

"In the beginning, my first book was supposed to be a collection of postcard stories about candy. It all started while I was living in Northern Ontario and saw a teenage girl kiss her boyfriend after feeding him a blue gumball. That sparked a story called "Tear Jerker Guts," which was then followed by "Astro Pop," "Fun Dip," and "Lotsa Fizz," among others."

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