How can you not adore a novel about love, food, and how working in a prison can help you discover who you really are? Every page has a beating heart; every character is so alive, you swear you hear them breathing. Stoner is an original and this debut is just fantastic.” Caroline Leavitt, New York Times Bestselling author of Is This Tomorrow and Pictures of You
"It's 1923 in Midland, Texas, and Nana Dara, newly employed by the Imperial State Prison Farm for men and newly awakened to a secret she'd rather lock up than face, has encountered the most unlikely of allies: Leadbelly. Yes, that Leadbelly. Out from this very particular pairing spools a Southern epic that spans decades. With beautiful peculiarity of detail and a perfect combination of sharpness and sensitivity, Tammy Lynne Stoner pens a gorgeous debut novel about race, class, sexuality, and the prisons we make of ourselves." Gigi Little, Powell’s Book Seller and editor of City of Weird
"With Sugar Land , Stoner creates a captivating story for the agesa young, southern girl in the 1920's who becomes a ballsy broad in a double-wide, and on the journey learns about love the hard way. This heartbreaking and hysterical book inspires us with a brave and unusual life. Sugar Land is for anyone who still believes in love." Jillian Lauren, New York Times bestselling author of Some Girls: My Life in a Harem and Everything You Ever Wanted
"Much of what occurs in the novel is difficult to swallow, in great part because the story takes place in a time when Dara’s identity is not readily accepted, even by herself . . . Sugar Land is a raw, spiraling, and hopeful story about a woman who wishes that she didn’t love as she does, and the life she leads in the wake of her self-realizations." Hannah Hohman, Foreword Review
"Stoner has written a book that is heartfelt and tender . . . These characters linger and are quite unforgettable. It’s very much a Southern book in language and with Stoner’s observations that are wry and thoughtful. Sugar Land spans decades in a well-told, easy going manner and I finished the book with a satisfied smile." Sarah Leamy
DEBUT In 1923 Texas, 19-year-old Dana and Rhodie's burgeoning romance doesn't stand a chance. After Dana overhears her cousin, Sheriff Earl, boasting about beating lesbians and running them out of his jurisdiction, she leaves Rhodie and takes a job as a cook at the state prison in Sugar Land, TX. There, she ignores Rhodie's letters from college, befriends inmate blues musician Leadbelly, endures sexual harassment from the sadistic head chef, and eventually marries the widowed prison warden. After he passes away, "Nana Dana" remains close to her two stepdaughters, moves into a cat-filled trailer home, and enters the 1950s assuming that she will be lonely for the rest of her life. Tanya May Rogerton, a local dressmaker (and widow) may be able to change Dana's solo destiny if Dana can just let it happen and enjoy herself. Racism, sexism, and homophobia have an impact on all of the characters, and Nana Dana is resilient and relatable and doesn't always follow the path readers might want. VERDICT In this engaging and authentic tale of one woman's life and loves, debut novelist Stoner follows in the bright legacy of Southern humorists such as Fannie Flagg, Rita Mae Brown, Bailey White, and Rebecca Wells.—Jennifer B. Stidham, Houston Community Coll. Northeast
The long, wondrous life of a mostly closeted Texas lesbian, from teenage years in the kitchen at the men's prison to old age in a trailer off RR 23, with the 20th century rolling by in the background.
"My first workday at the Imperial State Prison Farm for men was February 8, 1923." When we meet Miss Dara, she has traveled from her home in West Texas all the way to a prison on the outskirts of a steamy, smelly little town called Sugar Land, near Houston. She is hoping to escape the fallout of her passionate love affair with a girl named Rhodie who comes in to buy eggs at the egg store where Dara works—"how could I not love a girl with a butterfly scarf and a bow with no arrows?" At the prison, Dara meets several characters who will greatly influence her life: the horrible and predatory head cook; a mustachioed co-worker named Beauregard; the Warden, a decent man who will play an unexpectedly large role in Dara's future; and a talented if violent prisoner named Huddie. Huddie Ledbetter turns out to be the real-life musician Lead Belly, who actually was pardoned by the governor for his singing. From these beginnings, the story takes many delightful twists and turns, always described succinctly and colorfully by this narrator, who is irresistible even on days when she's "retaining enough water to grow rice in Arizona." By the end of it, she comes to believe "that each and every life has the number of trials it is destined to have, and if you take one away, another one fills its place….No life is easy and no life is hard; it's just what adjectives you choose to use to describe it." Dara's story is a postcard of small-town Texas life from Prohibition through civil rights, tracing the treatment and awareness of gay people through these decades.
The love child of Fannie Flagg and Rita Mae Brown, Stoner is sure to win her own devoted following with this ravishing debut.