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Sugar Land

Sugar Land

Tammy Lynne Stoner


Red Hen Press: Pasadena, CA

c. 2018

Plot Summary: It’s 1923 in Midland, Texas and nineteen-year-old Dara falls in love with her best friend, who happens to be a girl. Terrified by this unusual attraction, Dara takes a job at the Imperial State Prison Farm for men, hoping to keep her secret attractions under lock and key. There she meets soon-to-be-legendary blues singer Leadbelly, who sings his way to a pardon from the governor—but only after he makes Dara promise to get out, too. So when the Warden asks for her hand in marriage, Dara keeps her promise and leaves the Imperial State Prison Farm as his wife and step-mother to his two girls. Life outside, however, isn’t all sweet tea and roses, and Dara finds herself on a journey to accept the secret she’s been carrying.

Critical Evaluation: Sugar Land was quite an interesting book. The story was told in a way that felt very real. The characters were very relatable and the environment was one in which was appropriate for that time period. The writing and dialogue was easy to read and understand. The book had an almost “homey”, old-timey feel to it and offered a great glimpse into small town life. I am not sure if I could personally live in a small town. I would not want everyone to know about my business.

    The fact that the whole book was broken up into three separate books and the titles looked like they were written on a typewriter adds to the old-fashion feel of the novel. The titles were cleverly named.

Reader’s Annotation: What is a woman doing in the kitchen of a state prison?

Author’s Information:

Award winning author and VCCA Fellow, tammy was born in Midland, Texas. SUGAR LAND is her debut novel. She’s been published two dozen times in journals and anthologies and is also the publisher of Gertrude and wrangler of GERTIE queer book club.

tammy attended the Tin House Workshop twice, earned her MFA from Antioch University, won a fellowship to the 2012 SLS Summer Seminar in Kenya and a 2017 Sou-Wester Artist-in-Residence Fellowship, and was nominated for a Million Writers Awardand a Pushcart. SUGAR LAND won an IPPY, was a finalist for a Forewords Indie Award, made the Advocate‘s Best of 2018, was a Top Five for 2018 by Powell’s booksellers, was starred by Kirkus Reviews, and called “writing at its finest” by the New York Journal of Books (among other lovely reviews here).

Stemming from what her grandmother calls her “gypsy blood,” she has lived in 16 cities in 3 countries, working as a gas station attendant, biscuit maker, medical experimentee, waitress in a Greek diner, house cleaner, and a college instructor – among other odd jobs. She also created “Dottie’s Magic Pockets” – the first show for kids in all kinds of families.

She lives between Portland, OR and Basel, Switzerland with her lady-friend, Karena, and their three kids. (About, n.d.).

Genre(s): Realistic Fiction, Coming-of-Age, LGBTQ+

Curriculum Ties: Alternative History

Booktalking Ideas: Racial inequality, transgender identity, and LGBTQ+

Reading Level/Interest Age: 16+

Challenge Issues and Defense Preparation: Racism, Rape, LGBTQ+, Language, Body dysmorphia

“This book is a tunnel for its characters with so much light at the end. Entering that light, seeing it and feeling it, I cannot help but love what stoner has created in these pages.” – After the Pause

“…endearing strength, sass, and soul searching.” The Oregonian (“Five Novels to Escape with This Summer”)

Sugar Land is a precisely-told, gritty, redeeming story about second chances filled with hope and inspiration…” – Tar Heel Reader

“It’s a story that deals with heavy themes such as racism and gender and sexual discrimination and violence, but one that stoner writes with such a tender, warm lilt that readers don’t get bogged down. Her characters are complex, fully drawn and utterly alive…” – ArtsAtl

“…this inherently engaging and deftly crafted novel is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to community library Literary Fiction collections.” –MidWest Book Reviews

“[Sugar Land] is about improbable kindnesses stubbornly taking root in harsh environments; the resourcefulness of people who feel they’ve been cursed not just by society but their own desires; and how the toughest prisons are often the ones we create for ourselves.” – Houston Chronicle

“In this engaging and authentic tale of one woman’s life and loves, debut novelist stoner follows in the bright legacy of Southern humorists [like] … Bailey White and Rebecca Wells.” – Library Journal

“A powerful paperback that doesn’t pull any emotional punches, Sugar Land is a debut you don’t want to miss.” – Bustle

The characters are humorous and self-effacing, and their wit holds up even more starkly against the harsh landscape of the Texas politics they find themselves enmeshed in.”
​- Lambda Literary Journal

“With a lively sense of humor and a great sense of place, tammy lynne stoner’s debut is a Southern novel from a voice that rings true … with keen insight into race, class, gender identity and social norms, Sugar Land is the story of a woman learning to come home to herself.” – BookPage

“A postcard of small-town Texas life from Prohibition through civil rights, tracing the treatment and awareness of gay people through these decades…stoner is sure to win her own devoted following with this ravishing debut.” – STARRED Kirkus Reviews

“…always surprising and exhilarating … A lovely debut…” – Booklist

“This is writing at its finest…” – New York Journal of Books

“Quietly powerful … Sugar Land is a raw, spiraling, and hopeful story…” – Foreword Reviews  (5 star review)

“Don’t miss this Southern coming-of-age gem…” – Hello Giggles

a heartfelt story of what it meant to be ‘different’ in the Deep South during the middle 20th century.” – Author Link reviews

“…a captivating story for the ages—a young, southern girl in the 1920s who becomes a ballsy broad in a double-wide … This heartbreaking and hysterical book inspires us with a brave and unusual life.” – Jillian Lauren, New York Times bestselling author

“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

“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 

“stoner’s debut story of a young woman trying to find her way in the world is both light and profound.” Powell’s staff pick (Dianah) 


2019 IPPY award winner
Short-listed for the Crook’s Corner Book Award
Finalist for a 2018 Forewords INDIES Book of the Year Award 
The Advocate’s “Best Books We Read in 2018” and highlighted in the Letter from the Editor
Powell’s Staff Top Five for 2018
Bustle‘s 15 New Paperbacks for Your Fall Reading List 
​Liz & Lisa‘s Best Books of October 2018
Deep South magazine, Fall-Winter Recommended Reading List
Long-listed for the Chautaugua Prize
Quarter-finalist for the Big Break script competition
The Tournament of Books Best of 2018 Long List
Powell’s Staff Pick, October 2018
Shelf Awareness Book Trailer of the Day (scroll down on this link

Reason for Inclusion: The reason I included this book was in order to show diversity in my collection. It is difficult finding decent, teenage-friendly novels where the main character is lesbian.

Marshea, B. (n.d). About. Retrieved from


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