Book Review: Sugar Scars by Travis Norwood

Sugar has survived the virus that wiped out most of the world only to realize her immunity won't matter when all the insulin injections expire---without insulin, her blood sugar will get too high, she'll slip into a diabetic coma, and she won't ever wake up again. With help from the community that has formed in Tallahassee, Sugar sets out to make her own insulin, no matter what it takes.

Book Review: Sugar Scars by Travis Norwood | reading, books, book reviews, science fiction, post-apocalyptic, disability, diabetes
Title: Sugar Scars
Pages: 305
My Rating: 2.5 Stars
More Info: Goodreads, Amazon


I’m going to start by talking about the good things in the book, the best being that the disability representation was fantastic. The premise alone—a girl with Diabetes trying to make her own insulin in a post-apocalyptic world—was great, and, although I can’t be sure, the portrayal of the disability seemed accurate. There were lots of little mentions about living with Diabetes, like how she had to meticulously plan her meals and injections to make sure her blood sugar and insulin levels stayed balanced, how she had been afraid of needles and the injections hurt but you get used to what you have to do when your life literally depends on it, how she couldn’t just dig in and enjoy the meal and dessert at a group potluck because she took a certain amount of insulin, how unknown meals were terrifying because she didn’t know how much they would raise her blood sugar, etc.

And in regards to the premise, *SPOILER* I don’t know if it would truly be feasible for someone to make insulin the way they did, especially since it took so many pigs and so many different supplies that would be in limited stock, but I was ok with that for the sake of the book since it was still difficult and complicated and not something the characters just immediately figured out. Sugar did research in university medical libraries, gathered equipment from hospitals and universities, had help from people, did a lot of trial and error, and still ended needing the help of an expert. *END SPOILER*

There were some other interesting things in this book too, aside from the disability, like unexpected plot happenings, unpredictable romance, some touching moments, and a unique cast of characters.

But I also had some issues. For one thing, everyone in this book was way too chill about the apocalypse. Ok, the main character was a misanthrope, she wasn’t close to anyone and therefore had no one to mourn for, but she was still too unconcerned about surviving. The whole post-apoc world was just too easy. I also found it hard to believe that everyone else in the US was just as calm, that no one panicked and raided stores, that there weren’t more bad people, etc. (I suppose the author made the world easier in order to focus on the insulin-making aspect.)

The most bothersome thing though was the prejudiced implications. Everything was portrayed as great in the US, aside from one bad person, but in Brazil there were a bunch of rapists. There were also bits of sexism throughout the book. Like how Sugar assumed she was the only woman left who didn’t want to have kids and kept mentioning things about every woman’s biological impulses. And how everyone who said they didn’t want kids seemed to change their mind by the end, even if it was just to adopt. And how Sugar “never understood the power that desire held over men” until she dated one. Oh, and did you know that “the nakedness of a man to a woman is completely different than a woman’s to a man”? And that “men were at their weakest when desire took over”? Apparently men are savages who can’t control their desires. Except, this was the ironic part, when she and John (someone she was not in a relationship with) would bathe in the river, he would turn away while she got in and out, but she wouldn’t turn away for him. And she noticed that he sometimes got turned on. Which means she was looking. She also kept one of his dirty shirts just so she could smell it. So basically, if anyone was the sexual predator in that situation, it was her. It’s tricky though because these were the character’s thoughts, not necessarily ideas being condoned. For example, Sugar also believed that, “men want their women smooth under their touch” because she was worried about her scars, but the scars clearly weren’t an issue to her love interest. But I still felt that some of these things were problematic.

Speaking of Sugar, I had mixed feelings about her. She was super determined to keep trying until her dying day if that’s what it took rather than to just accept her death. And I admired and agreed with her decision to not let that one particular person back into her life. Plus she was generally a good person and did what she thought was right in tough situations, despite having a kind of surly, cold personality. But she also made weird assumptions about people. And she was incredibly naive for someone who grew up in foster care. Or just for anyone who grew up anywhere.

I also had lots of nitpicky problems (mostly minor things, not reasons to not read the book, but still), like how Sugar kept constantly thinking about how pricking her finger was the only time she could stand the sight of blood and how she thought that was the only blood she’d ever have to see again… apparently having forgotten that she bleeds for a week every month. And how she had clock numbers tattooed on her stomach so that she could keep track of where she was injecting herself in order to avoid little scar bumps from injecting in the same spot twice before it could heal; so… she had a weird clock tattooed on her stomach, but hey, at least she didn’t have scar bumps! And there was one scene where Sugar turned her insulin injection into a sexy seduction thing, which seemed weird. Also, a probably Cat 4 or so hurricane also showed up at one point without warning, but, even without weathermen, you’d know one was coming before the full force of it hit.

Honestly it’s really a shame that someone didn’t point out these problems during editing because they could’ve been so easily fixed. And then I probably could’ve given the book 4 stars because I really did like the general story and the disability rep. I wouldn’t tell someone not to read this—I’m glad that I did because I feel like I learned a lot about what it’s like to have Type 1 Diabetes and there were things I liked about this book—but just know going into it that it has some problems.


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  1. Greg

    Now this is a premise you don’t see a lot of! But sorry to hear it had issues. I think the fact that it didn’t seem very dangerous would bother me too, I like a little craziness in my post apoc settings. 🙂 And the whole desire thing- that’s kinda weird. Same with the hurricane showing up out of nowhere. The insulin thing has me curious though- cause yeah what would a diabetic do? But 4 stars if not for some of those issues- that’s pretty good!

    1. Kristen Burns

      You really don’t see this. I too like surviving to be a little more difficult though. And the sexism was bothersome at times. The hurricane thing just irked me because I’ve been though lots of hurricanes, and that just isn’t how they happen! But yeah, I honestly didn’t really understand Type I Diabetes before I read this, and now I at least understand, like, what it is and how insulin works and whatnot. And I thought all that seemed to handled really well. I really did like the disability and the plot/story!

  2. verushka

    I think the diabetic angle in this world is one worth exploring but there’s so much that would annoy me in this, especially in regards to the quotes you added.

  3. Danya @ Fine Print

    Nothing makes me scratch my head more than a bunch of people sitting around, feeling relaxed about the apocalypse. LOL. Ultimately I don’t think this one is for me, although the premise is absolutely fab and I love the fact that there’s good disability rep. Conveniently forgetting periods is practically a mainstay in SF/F these days. It’s more noteworthy when they ARE mentioned, sadly!

    1. Kristen Burns

      Lol right? Like, *I* would have been the one raiding the stores to make sure I didn’t run out of stuff I needed. I did love the premise though. We need more books with this kind of disability rep. It was kind of ironic though since she actually did remember to pick up hygiene products at the store near the beginning of the book, but then she forgot about periods later lol.

  4. Aleen Davis

    Wow! So on the surface it sounds like a pretty cool sounding book.

    and then…

    Sugar! Yea, I don’t think so. Your review made me laugh, especially about the whole sexual predator thing. LOL

    Great review! ~Aleen

  5. Olivia Roach

    I think the disability side of things is so interesting and I am glad they included it! Because to be honest, I think a lot of people who require medicines or are disabled in some aspect would struggle in such a world state or disaster, and books never really mention them!

    1. Kristen Burns

      Agreed, we need more books like this that include disability and represent it well. And in post-apoc situations, it would be the hardest for many disabled people and especially anyone who needs medication to literally survive.

  6. Becky @ A Fool's Ingenuity

    This book sounds like it had an interesting premise but it definitely sounds like it didn’t really live up to the expectations. I love that it has an MC with diabetes in a post apocalyptic setting, that is not something you see often. It just sucks it couldn’t be as good as it sounded like it should be, though. Oh well, it’s obviously one of them.