Published by Algonquin Books on January 8, 2019
Read synopsis on Goodreads
Buy the book: Amazon/Audible (this post includes affiliate links)
Jodi is invisible. Okay, she’s not actually invisible, but she feels like she is. It’s a feeling that started in childhood, when her twin brothers came along and stole the spotlight. It persisted into adolescence, when she did everything she could to be seen, whether by family or strangers. It was, in fact, her desire to be seen that landed her in prison at age 17 for manslaughter, and it was this same desire that led her down the post-release path we read about in Sugar Run by Mesha Maren.
Following her release after two decades in prison, Jodi is set on making amends and heading to her family’s land in West Virginia for a fresh start. But life has a way of interfering in a person’s plans, and in her quest to go home again, she meets the dynamic, but damaged, Miranda. The encounter knocks her out of balance, but she manages to make it home, though with a few new friends in tow.
When I first started reading this book, I came across an article from Amazon Book Review that holds up Sugar Run as a shining example of how fiction can put us in the shoes of others. The author said, “…here is something uniquely powerful about fiction’s ability to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, disrupt our preconceived notions, and bridge the gap between ignorance and understanding.”
It was true then, but it’s even more true now that I’ve finished it.
For many, the words contained within the pages will only highlight what we already know. We are in the midst of an opioid crisis, so some will recognize the lives of themselves or their friends in the characters. Fracking occurs in many parts of the country, so for those readers, the devastation, destruction, and impoverishment of communities will come as no surprise. Lastly, almost all of us know someone with a criminal record, meaning the challenges Jodi encounters in seeking to build her new life will be expected.Sugar Run by @MeshaMaren is a must-read novel about the consequences of our choices, our desire to be seen, and the quest to go home again. Click To Tweet
But knowing and knowing are entirely different things, and it’s the latter that is the gift Maren gives the reader. The author’s ability to synthesize these forces into a protagonist that is entirely different, yet also entirely relatable, is astounding. We come to understand and relate to Jodi in unexpected ways. For all her flaws, she is just like us: she wants to make amends for her mistakes and build a better future, only to realize that outside forces often have a different plan for us. Her desperate hope for a better life is palpable; her need to find herself nearly vibrating off of the pages.
Set against the backdrop of an impoverished rural community, Sugar Run is a commentary on how we, in society, treat others and ourselves, including those who are imperfect. It’s about seeking a feeling of belonging and a sense of home. But more so, it’s about how, at our very core as humans, we all want to be seen. Maybe not in the same way or in public, but we all strive to connect. Sometimes, that connection is not in our best interests, yet the desire to have any connection at all tends to supersede all rational thought. It will leave the reader wondering who, exactly, sees them?
Recommended for: Those interested in the human experience, particularly one that is very real but likely very different from their own.