For ages, I've been going between 3 and 3.5 stars on Sugar Pie Guy. It gets full marks for the concept and some aspects of the execution, while other - particularly the insta-love and some of the writing - didn't work so well for me.
It's set in 1977 suburban Cleveland, where a small, run-down strip mall serves as the centre of the local community. Roberta "Bobbie" Bell's aunt owns a business there, and Bobbie and her friends decide to hold some discos for some good, clean fun, and to help Bobbie's aunt out of some financial difficulties. But when Randy is sent to Cleveland to realise his father's ambitions of turning the mall into something more profitable, the community must rally. Even though Bobbie and Randy are on opposite sides of this fight, they're drawn to each other, and soon Randy's not sure if selling the mall is the best idea after all.
The romance between Bobbie and Randy developed quite fast, and I found it hard to accept that they could fall in love so quickly, especially given that they are on opposite sides of the campaign to save the mall, and would be entering into a potentially fraught interracial romance (as you can see on the cover, Bobbie is African-American, while Randy is white, of Italian extraction).
Admittedly, the latter does give Bobbie pause, and constitutes part of the continued awareness of race throughout the book. I thought this was handled sensitively, reflecting both the progress made in the decade since the Civil Rights Movement ended, and the entrenched bigotry that remained.
The American disco scene is not exactly my area of expertise, but my understanding is that it - like many cultural phenomena - arose from the marginalised African-American, gay and Latino communities, and I was pleased to see that reflected in Sugar Pie Guy. It is together with her cousin Luke, and his DJ partner, Sal, that Bobbie starts the disco, which is always intended to be a safe space for everyone:
“Vel [the owner of the space where the disco is being held] knows that this is probably going to be a mixed straight and gay crowd, right?”
“Right. He doesn’t care. He says he saw everything there is to see during the war.” Propping her chin on her hand, she warned Luke about the house rules for a private party at the Donuteria. “No booze, no drugs, no nudity, no public sex…” (14%)The distinction between their "safe, suburban disco" (23%) and other, wilder ones is something that I found particularly interesting because of similar cultural phenomena in Australia and New Zealand, from the Blue Light Discos that my parents attended and that are still a fixture for young people in some communities, to the locally renowned "Lav" dances I went to in Sydney as a young teen.
The 70s setting was expressed in campy dialogue and writing that - to me, as a modern reader - mostly hit a good level of 'cheesily fun'. Sometimes, however, I found myself rolling my eyes, particularly at the flowery, heavily euphemistic way the sex scenes are written. Bobbie and Randy's repeated use of the endearment 'baby' also got old, but I think has to do with my distaste for that particular pet name than anything else.
But, overall, I enjoyed the way Sugar Pie Guy brought both the carefree attitudes and more serious aspects of the 70s to life. It was a novel read, and I'd recommend it for anyone who - like me - is always looking for 'outside-the-box' historicals. I think there's a lot of untapped potential for romances set in the second half of the 20th Century in a variety of setting, and I hope to see more authors taking advantage of this in the future.