Few of us look back with fondness on our high school years. With too much drama and insecurity packed into four years, it’s a wonder people manage to become functioning adults. For the most part, though, once it’s over, those days are behind us.
For Sugar Beth Carey, protagonist of Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Ain’t She Sweet, high school is about to catch up with her. Forced to return to her small Southern town where she ruled high school as the spoiled-rotten and gorgeous queen bee who made everyone else’s lives miserable, she comes face to face with her former victims, and the reunion is not a joyous one. Among them are her half-sister Winnie and Colin Byrne, whose teaching career she ruined with false accusations of inappropriate behavior. A big helping of humble pie is on the menu, but of course, so is romance.
I’ll say this upfront: Ain’t She Sweet requires a healthy dose of suspended disbelief to accept the premise that virtually an entire town has remained pettily invested in comeuppance of a high school bully. Once that hurdle is crossed, it actually makes a very entertaining read, with snappy banter and some decent character development.
Sugar Beth herself is the antidote to previous contemporary romance heroines I’ve encountered (Bridget Jones, I’m lookin’ at you). She’s a woman who has made some poor life choices and has had to live with and learn from those mistakes. The result is a strong-willed and self-deprecating woman who would rather piss people off and maintain what’s left of her pride than show a moment’s weakness. She’s trying to be a better person, but sometimes self-defeating habits get in the way—in short, while the premise of the story may be contrived, the protagonist herself reads as a fairly realistic person. The supporting cast of characters is developed to varying degrees, but the main ones at least are developed enough to keep the story going. One of the cute subplots involves the relationship between Sugar Beth and her half-sister’s daughter, a teenager going through the throes of, well, being a teenager and looking to her infamous aunt for guidance.
Overall, this was a fun, fast read. I think Susan Elizabeth Phillips is an author I may revisit when I’m looking for something fluffy to read.