The Secret Society of Sugar and Spice by Carol J. Larson
Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press
Genre: Historical, YA
Length: Full Length (191 Pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Cyclamen
Her name is Mace. Like the spice. And the weapon. At sixteen, she is the leader of the Secret Society of Sugar and Spice, a group of girls who are inmates of the Home for Abandoned and Orphaned Children and whose lives are only made bearable by their mission to rescue runaways from the streets of St. Paul, Minnesota. But now, in 1883, when the Secret Society is called upon to rescue Claire Sargent, a rich privileged girl who is being abused by her stepfather, their world is turned upside down and nothing is what it seems. When Mace’s father reappears at the Home and a gang of thugs searches for Claire, Mace, too, becomes a runaway and flees into a world where she must learn that enemies can become friends and hatred can turn into forgiveness.
It is never easy to be abandoned, but being abandoned as a child is incredibly painful. Carol Larson has written an excellent historical novel which revolves around abandoned and orphaned children in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1883. The story centers on the Home for Abandoned and Orphaned Children where several of the girls have set up the Secret Society of Sugar and Spice in order to rescue runaways and provide them with a safe haven. Naturally, since these girls are all living in poverty, they seek to help those in their same position. Mace, the leader of the group, is then severely tested when Claire, a rich girl, runs away, seeking asylum from her abusive step-father.
Larson develops the characters of both Mace and Claire in great depth. At first, of course, they can’t stand each other. Claire is dropped into a situation for which she has no background and Mace figures Claire has it made and should just go back home. I like the way both girls learn that abuse and trauma are not limited to any particular socio-economic class. It is exciting to see how the girls are forced to work together, depending on each other, developing trust and finally a friendship.
Mace hasn’t had any chance for a lot of learning, but she is definitely “street smart” and very savvy. She is a natural leader but has a hard time when others disagree with her. She definitely has a chip on her shoulder at the beginning. Claire, on the other hand, is terrified and it doesn’t help that she has an injured shoulder after her step-father’s last abuse. Nevertheless, her father, before he died, had been a doctor and she helped him in his rounds. She too is a leader, and the girls only survive through some pretty harrowing adventures because of the skills she learned from her father. Larson shows a lot of sympathy for both of these girls, and she makes them very believable. I was definitely caught up in their story, pulling for them through each adventure.
These two characters play off each other well, and Larson has developed a solid plot with some nice twists and turns. The historical details are well-researched, and readers unfamiliar with this time period will not only enjoy a good story, but learn a lot about the time period. The ending has everything tied up neatly and satisfactorily. Mace and Claire both succeed in what they wanted to do and all ends happily. I had my questions in places, such as how the blacksmith managed to have so much money and how Claire’s shoulder managed to heal so quickly, but overall, this is an excellent historical novel which I can certainly recommend to lovers of that genre.