“Welcome to Leftover Bay!” A Review of Sugarcoated

Title: Sugarcoated

Series: Leftovers (Book 1)

Author: Sarah Epstein

Publisher: Fourteen Press

Released: 2021

Rating: ★★★★★

He was, I realised with a sinking feeling, perfect assistant manager material.

Sarah Epstein, Sugarcoated

There are so many things I have to say about this book and its author, all of them glowing praise. After reading this wholesome indie YA romance, I can say with absolute certainty that I could never be let down by Sarah Epstein. I am so thrilled that Sarah’s seemingly effortless style and skill have transferred without a hitch into a new genre. I expected nothing less and I have not been disappointed.

Sugarcoated introduces us to Sophie Duchamp, a sixteen-year-old artist who has lost her creative spark. Her boyfriend has left her for her best friend. Her family is crumbling, with her adored father moving to New Zealand to find a fresh start, Sophie is lonely and miserable, so she snaps up a job at the new candy store to save up for a flight to Auckland to escape her life in Leftover Bay. Seaside Candy Co is where Sophie meets Simon, an instant rival for the position of junior assistant manager who annoys her completely. That’s why she can’t stop thinking about him… But Simon isn’t the only work complication. Sophie’s new boss seems to have taken a certain interest in her that makes her profoundly uncomfortable. It’s all she can do to find the sweetness in her endless list of problems.

Sophie is totally lovable and I felt instantly connected with her. It’s difficult not to love her terrible sarcasm just for the sake of being snarky. Her voice and relationships with others feel very natural and real for teens this age. I especially loved Sophie’s relationship with her sister Eloise. Sarah has so effectively conveyed the ride or die relationship they have, despite the two constantly being at each others’ throats. The central romance is a wholesome rivals-to-lovers story that you can’t help but appreciate the innocence of it. (With an excellent first kiss scene.) Each of the new friends Sophie makes at Seaside Candy Co are fun and interesting. I especially adored the lighthearted Woody (bisexual rep!) and the friendliest goth feminist you ever met, Gia.

While Sugarcoated is a very sweet read, some of the themes are quite real, explored in a gentle manner with appropriate conclusions. I really felt the discomfort of Sophie’s interactions with her boss, a subplot I think was dealt with in a manner that focuses on autonomy and empowering young women to assert their boundaries. The family betrayals are HUGE and are tied up in a lovely way that gives space for more of Sophie’s growth in future books of the Leftovers series. The competitive tension between Sophie and Simon is adorable. I think the featured quote below my rating encapsulates their dynamic in a very concise way. I loved every argument-slash-flirting match they have.

Now I’d like to gush a little about the author and indie publishing in general!

I am consistently delighted when a beloved author switches up the kind of work they write. It’s just nice to see them creating the art they want instead of being confined to a brand I know so many authors are expected to be. Being a fan from her debut novel Small Spaces, I’ve watched Sarah jump from one publisher to another (since I like to pay attention to all that industry side of things) and it’s nice to see her just say to hell with it and do it all herself. So congratulations to Sarah for embracing the hybrid author path! I have such a respect for indie and self-published work and I do what I can to support the authors I love. (For some YA fantasy I recommend Selina A. Fenech!) I’d also like to point out that Sarah didn’t just write the book, she designed the cover and layout too! Indie authors are actual superheroes.

I adored both of Sarah’s previous novels, Small Spaces and Deep Water, and I was excited to see her flex her talents in a new genre. Now let’s be real for a moment, a lot of people look down on YA generally, and especially romance, but Sugarcoated is as elegantly crafted as either of Sarah’s award-winning novels from trad publishers. Sophie just flies off the page with a voice that reads so real it’s like she’s sitting with you. Sarah Epstein remains an insta-buy.

Sugarcoated is a candy-sweet contemporary romance perfect as a holiday read! I cannot wait for the next Leftovers book! I loved Sophie’s story and I’m looking forward to learning more about the characters from Piece of Cake—I had such a soft spot for Mabel, I hope to see her soon!

Thank you so much to the author for a generously gifted ARC copy!

You can find purchasing links on the author’s website.

Published by Leigh Briar

Leigh Briar is a writer and poet living and writing on Kaurna land. She has been published primarily in student newspapers and local community publications, and also produce zines exploring the relationship between emotional healing and the written word. Her story “Entirely Perfect in (Almost) Every Way” was highly commended in the 2021 Feast Festival Short Story Competition.

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