Wise-cracking Wiley Cantrell is loud and roaringly outrageous—and he needs to be to keep his deeply religious neighbors and family in the Deep South at bay. A failed writer on food stamps, Wiley works a minimum wage job and barely manages to keep himself and his deaf son, Noah, more than a stone’s throw away from Dumpster-diving.
Noah was a meth baby and has the birth defects to prove it. He sees how lonely his father is and tries to help him find a boyfriend while Wiley struggles to help Noah have a relationship with his incarcerated mother, who believes the best way to feed a child is with a slingshot. No wonder Noah becomes Wiley’s biggest supporter when Boston nurse Jackson Ledbetter walks past Wiley’s cash register and sets his sugar tree on fire.
Jackson falls like a wet mule wearing concrete boots for Wiley’s sense of humor. And while Wiley represents much of the best of the South, Jackson is hiding a secret that could threaten this new family in the making.
When North meets South, the cultural misunderstandings are many, but so are the laughs, and the tears, but, as they say down in Dixie, it’s all good.
It’s Diverse Books Week here at the blog. I chose Shaking the Sugar Tree because one of the MCs is the father of a deaf child born from a meth addicted mother, and the other MC is a nurse from Boston who transfers to a hospital in Tupelo, Mississippi, bringing in the differences between the north and the south. The blurb talked of a man who is wise cracking and roaringly outrageous. It also contains the words, the laughs. Who doesn’t love laughs? I was excited to start this book, only to discover I couldn’t get past 64%. I felt a lot of emotions while I read…pity, angry, disturbed, uncomfortable. It was more than the cultural differences, caring for a handicapped child, and dealing with a less than ideal family. The writing didn’t flow well. It felt clunky, and there were a few plot holes and topics that seemed to just pop up and remain in the background, rather than being focused upon because they’re important to the story.
Wiley, the supposed wise cracker, is an angry, cynical, novelist whose sense of humor was often times rude and not funny to me at all. I mentioned the word uncomfortable, and that’s the perfect description. He loved his son, but he acted put upon and had a serious case of martyr syndrome. I found him to be completely unlikable, and I never felt any sort of connection with him. Jackson is a transplanted nurse with a secret. That secret pops up seemingly out of nowhere and causes a rift between the men. They fight and Wiley kicks Jackson out of his house and refuses to speak to him and let him explain. Wiley’s next move is to have sex with another man and I had no choice at that point but to put myself out of my misery and put this book down. I consider this to be cheating and I can’t deal with that. Others may see this differently, and that’s ok. We all like what we like and have many levels of tolerance. This is just something I can’t abide by.
The other reason I had to stop reading is Wiley’s family. I considered them rude and out of control. They were mean to each other, and Wiley’s grandfather is beyond inappropriate. I think he was supposed to be the comic relief, but he was crude and the words that came out of his mouth were offensive. At a family dinner, we get insight into just how dysfunctional they are. Wiley’ brother Billy is a strict Baptist with a horrible opinion of homosexuality. For instance…
“You’re exposing Noah to a shameful, dangerous lifestyle,” Billy said, getting angry. “It’s well known that gay parents abuse their children so they’ll become gay like them.”
“This homosexual lifestyle of yours. If you want to destroy yourself, go right ahead, but I’m not going to let you destroy Noah too. He deserves a real mom and a real dad, a happy life, a decent life, in a Christian home with Christian values. He doesn’t deserve a father like you.”
All of this vitriol is being said in front of Jackson, the guest, and poor Noah, who is blissfully unaware because he can’t hear a thing. This exchange gets a lot worse, but I don’t really have the space to note every mean exchange. As I read, I felt genuinely sick to my stomach and I was very tense. I was just about to the end of my rope when this scene occurred, so it was the beginning of the end for me.
I’d like to wrap this up by stating all of this is simply what I took away from the story. Others may feel differently. I was upset the entire time I read, and I was not enjoying the book at all, and I read for enjoyment. The discomfort, coupled with the clunky writing style and the plot holes, made for a disappointing experience and I couldn’t proceed any further. Personally, I can’t recommend Shaking the Sugar Tree and I will not be reading the two sequels that followed.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.
This review is part of our Reading Challenge Month for Diverse Books Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win one of our amazing diverse books prize packs. Commenters will also be entered to win our amazing grand prize sponsored by Dreamspinner Press (a Kindle Fire filled with Dreamspun Desires/Beyond books, plus a 3-month subscription!). You can get more information on our Challenge Month here, and more details on Diverse Books Week here, including a list of all the books in this week’s prize.