Sugarcoated (Leftovers #1), by Sarah Epstein
I adored this young adult novel written by multi award-winning author Sarah Epstein (whose novel Small Spaces - a YA psychological thriller - I've previously reviewed on my blog).
I must admit I have quite a sweet tooth, and so the setting for this novel - a fictional sweet shop in the Australian coastal town of Leftover Bay - definitely caught my attention!
Sixteen-year-old Sophie is the teen protagonist of Sugarcoated, and as the story opens she's still reeling from the fact that her boyfriend has cheated on her with her best friend. As if this isn't enough - she's also struggling with her fractured family dynamics and the loss of her creative spark.
Luckily for Sophie distraction arrives in the form of a summer job at the new store Seaside Candy Co, and initially things start looking up. A new job means she can earn enough money to quit this town and go join her dad in New Zealand.
But what Sophie hasn't counted on are her new boss starting to make inappropriate advances, a reluctant attraction to enigmatic co-worker Simon, and the revelation of a family secret that could shatter everything she thought she knew to be true.
I loved this story of family, friendship, slow-burn chemistry and female empowerment. Sophie's voice hooked me in from the first page, with her witty quips and sarcastic humour. And yet at other times her voice was achingly vulnerable, ensuring she is a well-rounded and relatable protagonist.
I enjoyed observing the way in which Sophie comes to let her guard down, realise she shouldn't be so quick to judge others, and - with the help of her new friends - find the strength to stand up for herself.
The cast of supporting characters are also wonderfully well-rounded and intriguing and I look forward to seeing more of them in future books in the Leftover Bay series!
The author handles issues of family separation, fractured relationships, and toxic masculinity with a deft touch, weaving them into the narrative in a way that never feels heavy or despairing. The way in which toxic masculinity is exposed and dealt with makes for an empowering read - particularly for young women who may have dealt with this issue in their own lives.
This book is fun, refreshing and authentic. If you love sugar, summer, a seaside setting and an enemies to lovers romance, then this is the book for you!
Published by Fourteen Press