I initially requested this novel on NetGalley and was denied, but I thought it sounded like an interesting concept so I kept my eye out, waiting for publication. Luckily, shortly after it was published, Hoopla picked up an audiobook, so I snagged it and gave it a listen.

Over the eleven plus hours of audio, we learn about Jodi, a woman who was sent to prison for eighteen years with a rough past who is trying to make a better life for herself now that she’s been released. She’s been wrestling with her demons for years- her feelings over her relationship with ex-lover Paula, over the crime she committed and what kind of person that made her, over her sexual identity, and how she feels about it all among the folk and family of her native Appalachian roots.

I don’t want to go into too much detail because there are plenty of twists and turns throughout the novel, and it’s very character driven by Jodi, but I will say that Maren has created very complex characters and a gritty, almost unsettling novel. I don’t think I felt comfortable reading the book the whole time, and though there are some things I felt I could relate to with Jodi- her want for a farm, for example- I found it otherwise very difficult to connect to her story, even though I did feel like I was seeing everything from her perspective. At the beginning, I thought Sugar Run would give me Orange Is The New Black vibes, but after the first few chapters, I could tell it was much darker. I think the audiobook was both good and bad for the same reason- it was great in helping me perceive Jodi’s life and thoughts, but at times it did get a little mundane, or dark and twisty.

Some of the themes I picked up on- sexuality, sense of belonging, small town bias, etc. were clearly explored and overall Maren has written a very strong novel, but personally, it wasn’t enjoyable to me. When i feel uncomfortable reading (or listening to) a book, and I’m having difficulties relating or empathizing with the main character, it’s already going downhill for me. While it wasn’t my cup of tea, it’s perfect for those who want diversity in their reads, or who want to be completely removed from their lives and inserted into someone unlike themselves. Because I’m on the fence, my advice would be to read it before you buy it- unless you’re just dying to own the hauntingly gorgeous cover.