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★★★★ Shaking the Sugar Tree by Nick Wilgus ★★★★

Shaking the Sugar TreeShaking the Sugar Tree by Nick Wilgus

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Blurb…

Wise-cracking Wiley Cantrell is loud and roaringly outrageous—and he needs to be to keep his deeply religious neighbors and family in the Deep South at bay. A failed writer on food stamps, Wiley works a minimum wage job and barely manages to keep himself and his deaf son, Noah, more than a stone’s throw away from Dumpster-diving.

Noah was a meth baby and has the birth defects to prove it. He sees how lonely his father is and tries to help him find a boyfriend while Wiley struggles to help Noah have a relationship with his incarcerated mother, who believes the best way to feed a child is with a slingshot. No wonder Noah becomes Wiley’s biggest supporter when Boston nurse Jackson Ledbetter walks past Wiley’s cash register and sets his sugar tree on fire.

Jackson falls like a wet mule wearing concrete boots for Wiley’s sense of humor. And while Wiley represents much of the best of the South, Jackson is hiding a secret that could threaten this new family in the making.

When North meets South, the cultural misunderstandings are many, but so are the laughs, and the tears, but, as they say down in Dixie, it’s all good.

So what did I think?

“What was I writing exactly? Romance? Drama? Slice of life? Romantic comedy? Would there be an audience for such a book? Watching Noah sit down, chomping on his Pop-Tart, I realized it was none of those things. It was a love story about a father and a son. The rest was window dressing. As a love story between a parent and a child, it was universal. Didn’t matter that I was gay, that he was deaf, that we didn’t fit in, that we were outcasts in our own way. God, fate, the universe, luck–we had been thrown together in this thing we call life for reasons we couldn’t fathom. As Mrs Humphries would say, The Lord gon’ find a way–and He had.”

This is the story of Wiley Cantrell and his son Noah. Their life isn’t easy – it is largely the two of them against the world and they sure have been dealt with more than their fair share of things to overcome.

Noah is a special little boy. Born addicted to meth and deaf, from the very moment of his birth he has struggled. Emotionally he is also very fragile and has craved the love of his mother who left him at birth. But Noah is blessed with the love of his father.

Wiley has reached his thirties and struggles through life. As a gay single father of a child with difficulties, he is on minimum wage and deals with people continually judging his lifestyle and deeming him an unfit parent. Even Wiley’s own family judge him.

“I had no career to speak of, no future, no money in the bank, no man to go home to and make love to and be with, no chance in hell that I would ever get gay-married and live happily ever after. I don’t often through myself a pity party, but I threw one for myself that afternoon, sitting there on the bench staring into space. I couldn’t help but feel that maybe Bill and my mother were right, maybe there was something really wrong with me. Maybe I didn’t deserve happiness. Maybe there was no room in the Magnolia state for souls like mine. Maybe I was really born at the wrong time, in the wrong place, living a life that fit me about as well as Elvis’s sideburns or Honey Boo Boo’s baby fat.”

Sad and heartbreaking, it is also inspirational to see such love and such sacrifices made by a father for this child. But the standout is the writing and how this tale is told – even in the depths of feeling Wiley’s pain, I was laughing at the total, hysterical craziness that accompanied every visit Wiley made home to see his family. Papaw is definitely a character I won’t be forgetting in a hurry!

“Mr. Light-in-the-Loafers is here,” Papaw announced. “And he’s got a little faggy friend. He’s also a little light in the loafers, if you know what I mean. They’ll probably both be dead of some venereal disease by Christmas so I wouldn’t get attached.” What a wonderful way for your new boyfriend to be greeted by your grandfather!

Yes, there is a love story. Jackson enters Wiley’s life and so begins the first relationship Wiley has had in years. They are wonderful together and I loved their easy banter and teasing and how their relationship worked around Noah. It’s not smooth sailing (you wouldn’t expect it to be) and Jackson has some problems of his own. I would have loved some more insight into Jackson’s struggles, to understand how he got to be in the situation he was in and his emotional journey to win Wiley. But the focus of this story stayed with Wiley.

Sadness, happiness, life, religion, homophobia, violence, tolerance, family, forgiveness, humour, love – this book pretty much packs it all in and is highly recommended reading!

I received a copy of this book from the author in return for my honest review.

DSP Buy Now

To find out more about Nick Wilgus and his books visit his website.

Buy Shaking the Sugar Tree from Amazon.

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