Living after the apocalypse really isn’t that hard for most of the survivors. The virus killed all but 1 in 10,000. The few remaining people are left in a world of virtually unlimited resources. Grocery stores overflowing with food and drink. Thousands of empty houses to pick from.
But one survivor, a nineteen-year-old girl, requires more than simple food, water and shelter. As a type 1 diabetic her body desperately needs insulin to stay alive. With civilization gone, no one manufactures it anymore. She hoards all the insulin she can find, but every day marches toward the end of her stash of vials. She has a choice. Accept her fate and death, or tackle the almost insurmountable task of extracting and refining the insulin herself.
Brilliant scientists struggled to make the first insulin. What hope does a high school dropout have?
I'm going to start with the negatives. This book wasn't all bad, though, so be sure to at least skim the lower paragraphs for its good points.
The editing. I mean, it could have been worse, but until I got to the end and read the acknowledgements I would have guessed that it hadn't been past a proper editor. Apparently it had. The writing was clunky on a sentence level and repetitive on a paragraph level (we don't need to be constantly and thoroughly reminded of things we learnt in previous chapters) and the plot was severely lacking for a good chunk of the book. I almost stopped reading when I was about a fifth of the way in because it just wasn't pleasant to read and nothing much was happening. The only reason I persevered was because the blurb said Sugar, the protagonist, would have to try to make insulin herself. It took her ages to even realise that she needed to make insulin. Most of the plot was just things randomly happening, recorded very linearly in Sugar's diary (although it wasn't that diary-like apart from the occasional reminders).
The structure kind of made it more boring. To make up for not putting the book down 20% of the way in, I ended up skipping bits to make up for pushing through. Mostly that meant skimming paragraphs, especially the more repetitive ones. I did not skip any large chunks.
The most interesting part of the book was the quest for insulin and the (mis-) adventures Sugar had along the way. More's the pity that the quest was introduced so late in the book. This was partly because Sugar was a pretty ignorant character, which was a little frustrating to read. (And partly because of the linear structure.) It took her quite a while to realise that drugs have expiration dates. Also, while I understand her being used to the internet and not a library user, it was a bit disconcerting that she was shocked that the university had a library. I mean, it was in character, but wow.
Some other notes: the book included (non-explicit and not on the page) paedophilia and rape. Also, the bit that took place in Brazil was faintly racist. But at least in Brazil Sugar got to encounter more relevant female characters than on any other of her trips, so there's that. There's also some gore, mostly associated with getting pancreases out of pigs (but also with killing bad people).
I'm not sure I'd particularly recommend Sugar Scars. It wasn't terrible, but the actual prose definitely wasn't good. However, I also realise this may not bother some people. If you're reading for the insulin-making narrative, the story does pay off, but it's a bit of a slog to get there. If you want to check how much the prose will bother you, maybe have a look at the ebook sample; it's pretty consistent throughout.
3 / 5 stars
First published: 2015, Booktrope Editions
Format read: Review copy