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I’m the fat Puerto Rican–Polish girl who doesn’t feel like she belongs in her skin, or anywhere else for that matter. I’ve always been too much and yet not enough.
Sugar Legowski-Gracia wasn’t always fat, but fat is what she is now at age seventeen. Not as fat as her mama, who is so big she hasn’t gotten out of bed in months. Not as heavy as her brother, Skunk, who has more meanness in him than fat, which is saying something. But she’s large enough to be the object of ridicule wherever she is: at the grocery store, walking down the street, at school. Sugar’s life is dictated by taking care of Mama in their run-down home—cooking, shopping, and, well, eating. A lot of eating, which Sugar hates as much as she loves.
When Sugar meets Even (not Evan—his nearly illiterate father misspelled his name on the birth certificate), she has the new experience of someone seeing her and not her body. As their unlikely friendship builds, Sugar allows herself to think about the future for the first time, a future not weighed down by her body or her mother.
Soon Sugar will have to decide whether to become the girl that Even helps her see within herself or to sink into the darkness of the skin-deep role her family and her life have created for her.
276 pages, Paperback
First published June 1, 2015
To tell the truth, I’m not really sure that beauty is beyond skin deep. I have yet to see that theory proven. If there are people that see the beauty within others, they sure as heck don’t live around here.This was a beautiful, sweet, heartbreaking book. I feel like the blurb is a horrible one, the premise of a fat Puerto-Rican-Polish girl. The description makes the main character feel like a caricature, and this book is much more than that. It's not the type of book I usually favor, but I'm so glad I gave this a shot.
Last year, I took the bus and endured having marshmallows thrown at my head as the kids in the back offered to feed me, shouting, “Come on, Sugar, we know you like sweets” and “Catch one in your mouth,” like I was some kind of sideshow attraction.Not surprisingly, she has no close friends. The only friendship she has a a highly doubtful, largely one-sided one.
I long for something sweet. Something to help me forget that the pink invitation on the cushion beside me isn’t a genuine request for friendship. To dull the reality that I’m merely collateral in Brittany’s life so she can make use of the texting feature on her phone, and that I’m a big, fat mess with chocolate frosting under my nails and a streak of orange cheese on my shirt.Sugar's life is anything but sweet. It is truly, truly awful. Her mother is bedridden due to her own obesity, but that doesn't prevent her from physically and mentally abusing her only daughter. Forcing Sugar to eat until Sugar can't even recognize her own hunger signals anymore, then mocking her for being fat, despite her own size.
Dark thoughts crash through my mind. I see Mama, when she was still able to get around, feeding me fried chicken and mashed potatoes topped with half a stick of butter along with gravy and mayo. I downed it with a liter of soda. She insisted I eat, saying, “You’ve got to grow. I don’t want no string bean for a daughter.” Then she let me eat an entire tray of brownies. I ate until I felt like I was going to throw up. All the while, she watched, working through her own plate. I see myself over the years, mindlessly eating, filling my belly until it ached.Her brother, Skunk, is even worse. His physical abuse of her and her endurance of it was painful to read. He pushes her. Shoves her. Mocks her. He, too, is fat, but kids don't make fun of him because of his size because he is a bully everywhere, at school and at home.
My sausage-filled family history is coupled with sexual innuendos, and they can’t resist teasing me, the fat girl, the granddaughter of the sausage guy. Of course, my brothers don’t do anything about it. Although they’re both big like me, they don’t endure the routine taunts, the shoves, or the humiliation. Half the time, they’re the ones dishing it out.It's a double standard that is only too painfully obvious to Sugar.
I can’t read the rest unless I press the button on the bottom of my phone. I ignore it, not wanting to talk to anyone at the moment. I frost the cupcakes, taking a few careful, but generous, licks off the knife. My tongue still stings from the burn earlier. My mouth itches from the sweet pudding and frosting.I think we've all been here. I know I have. A stressful day of work turns into eating an entire tub of cookie dough---and then some. Then the guilt and self-hatred creeps in. Sugar is no different. She hates herself for her weakness, but as any stress-eater will tell you, it's impossible to stop. The eating---it's not the result of hunger at all, but the desire to fill something missing from within.
Guilt creeps in as I survey the kitchen. Empty plastic cups and a cellophane bag with a hand-sized wrinkle from where I clutched it litter the counter. The discarded wrappers and empty cylinder of frosting stand like ruins. Regret submerges me like sludge.
I press my palms to the side of my head, wanting out—out of this body, this town, away, away, away. But there’s no escape.
I wonder if I’m actually hungry now.Her life is joyless until she meets Ever, who sees her for who she really is, the girl, the spirit that nobody sees, that everyone dismisses based on her appearance. Humans are shallow creatures at heart. No matter how we strive to be fair, most of us DO judge based on appearance. Sugar suffers from this prejudice, and it is Even who first sees what nobody else does.
I’m not, not really.
The little tower of chocolate cookies begs me to eat it, so that I can feel the soft give in my mouth as I bite down. Then there’s the bittersweet flavor of regret that when I eat them, they’ll be gone, and I’ll still be left wanting more.
“I know it must be hard for you, Sugar,” he says softly. “I hear kids talking, but you know what? You’re better than that. You’re—”Even (named because his dad couldn't spell) is not without problems of his own. In a way, they're kindred spirits.
That shadow within me that reminds me how worthless I am reckons Even can’t come up with anything nice to say. Then I catch his clear blue eyes and feel his warmth, alive, courageous, so close to me. Real.
“You’re my friend, Sugar. You have the biggest heart and the best laugh. And your smile. It melts me,” he says.
“Maybe you can make me something.”This is a story about a girl emerging from darkness.
“Like what?” I ask, not sure if he’s just indulging me.
Even stops, scratches his head, and then turns around and says, “An invisibility cloak, to start.”
He and I aren’t that different, appearances aside. We’re both stuck, with nowhere to go and no way to get there.
"I hear you've been running around with some boy. There ain't no one that likes you, Sugar. You're too ugly, too fat, and too stupid."
I long for something sweet. Something to help me forget that the pink invitation on the cushion beside me isn’t a genuine request for friendship. To dull the reality that I’m merely collateral in Brittany’s life so she can make use of the texting feature on her phone, and that I’m a big, fat mess with chocolate frosting under my nails and a streak of orange cheese on my shirt.
“I know it must be hard for you, Sugar,” he says softly. “I hear kids talking, but you know what? You’re better than that. You’re—”
“You’re my friend, Sugar. You have the biggest heart and the best laugh. And your smile. It melts me,” he says.
"I lean against the doorframe, heavy with the truth. I am always in the way. I've known this for as long I can remember."
"In fact, you're my favorite person in the world. You have confidence in there, but sometimes I think you just misplaced it."
A shell like this one, beautiful to begin with, can get cracked and slivered, and then time, the tides, maybe even the wind, tumble and toss it, and it becomes something new, a perfect version of itself.I'm very torn about this book. I do appreciate the author's decision to tackle this very sensitive topic and also some of the messages from the final chapters, but I don't agree with her overall approach. From the moment Even stepped into the picture I knew Sugar would try to lose weight for him. She had so many reasons to try to do it before, yet she never did. And what's even worse to me is that she started standing up to her family's abuse only as a consequence of her relationship with Even It's great when our lives are influenced positively by our friendships, but liking someone shouldn't be the sole catalyst for change, it needs to come from within too, and she didn't question anything before he came into her life, she just went along with all that abuse and I don't know if I can accept that.
”’There ain’t no one that likes you, Sugar. You’re too ugly, too fat, and too stupid.”An extreme emotional eater, her habits aren’t exactly discouraged by her fractured family, with her mother so big she’s bedridden and Skunk, her brother, matching his meanness to his enormous size. Sugar comes to feel like she’ll be stick in her backwards, hick town for good, forever being the targets of taunts and teasing from her town. That is, until a boy named Even arrives at her school. Even (who’s name was misspelled on his birth certificate by his illiterate and drunken father) becomes something of a kindred spirit to Sugar, helping her find the confidence and hope she needs to not only better herself physically, but emotionally as well.
”A chocolate craving pulls at odd parts of my body- the slight web of skin between my fingers, the spot under my tongue, the place above my knees but below my thighs- tugging me toward the kitchen. It distracts me from the laundry and everything else I should be doing.”She takes through the fleeting comfort that food gives them, where nothing and no one exists and everything is better.
”I chew the soft cake and the sweet center lights up my tongue. It carries me away to a place where size doesn’t matter, boys don’t taunt me, and Twinkies are healthy, plentiful- they grow like lettuce- and everyone loves them and me.”And she leads us into the aftermath, when the euphoria that food gives them goes away in under a minute, leaving the gnawing pain of regret and guilt for having overstepped the forbidden boundary.
”The chocolate is smooth and creamy on my tongue. As it melts in my mouth, it relieves the chatter in my mind. Instead, milky-cocoa sweetness splashes through my veins like a dam saturating parched land. I feel adored and caressed by the confection. But as quick as a snap, I’m shunted back to the present. The wrapper, crumpled in my sweaty fingers, reminds me that no one and nothing wants me here.”It’s absolutely harrowing, and I’m sure people can relate no matter if they are struggling with their weight or not. Lord knows that sometimes when I’m down I find myself craving the comfort of a chocolate bar, only to beat myself up afterwards for eating the whole thing in my emotional state.
”As the wafer melts on my tongue, I suddenly crave bread. A long aisle of imagined white, potato and cinnamon-raisin sliced bread stretches in front of me. Then, thinking about the cake on the television the day before makes my mouth water. A waterfall of cascades through my mind in a smooth wave ending in frothy bubbles.”Food consumes their every waking thought, and any negative feeling they might be experiencing can easily be comforted with food. It’s their version of getting a high, so to speak.
”I tuck myself into a corner of a vacant bench and take a handful of M&M’s from my bag. They crunch sweetly between my teeth. The sugar saturates that part of me that screams ugly... fat...useless.”And yet most people fail to realize that. We’ve been trained to think that when a person’s fat, they fall off the bandwagon and it’s their own fault. It’s so simple, why don’t they just stop with the eating the foods that are bad for them?
”Dark thoughts crash through my mind. I see Mama, when she was still able to get around, feeding me fried chicken and mashed potatoes topped with half a sick of butter along with gravy and mayo. I downed it with a liter of soda. She insisted I eat, saying, “You’ve got to grow. I don’t want no string bean for a daughter.’ Then she let me eat an entire tray of brownies. I ate until I felt like I was going to throw up. All the while, she watched, working through her own plate. I see myself over the years, mindlessly eating, filling my belly until it ached.”And I think the author did such a good job at handling that factor of the novel, which also happens to be the main part. I would’ve given it five stars for that alone.
”Those words cut right through the fascia that holds together my battered self-confidence to the little girl who has yearned for someone to show an interest in her. She is the same girl who wanted her mama to hang her paintings on the fridge, no matter that they were scribbles. And the girl who wanted a daddy to dust off her knees when she fell down, and then help her back up. She’s the same girl who, because of the absence of care, concern, and kindness, put on a shield made of donuts, cookies, and cakes to hide from the pain of dismissal, of being told that she is less than valuable and that she’s utterly unlovable.”The scenes where she has to take care of her mother and deal with the physical and emotional abuse of her brother Skunk were hard to stomach, let alone read about. You want to reach in and punch Sugar’s bullies for her. It’s truly heartbreaking to read about, as I’m sure we’ve known a few Sugar’s in our life, and maybe throughout our schooling.