Sugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Confession: I got this book out of the middle-grade section at my library, but I got it mostly for myself. I didn't really think my son would like it--he doesn't like 'girl' books in general, and he's not interested in discrimination, racism, slavery or history in general. So I thought I'd put it on when he was in the car, and when he complained, I'd turn it off and listen to it by myself when he wasn't in the car with me.
Turns out, he loved it. He never complained once about it being girlie, or from a girl's point of view. It's such a good story that he probably forgot all about his boycentric favorites. And I was completely absorbed as well. I enjoyed this much more than the YA book I listened to on my own at the same time.
This is a great look at a time that isn't as widely written about as slavery--the time after, during 'reconstruction,' when slaves weren't much better off but at least had their freedom. Sugar is a young black girl, an orphan, who lives on a sugarcane plantation. The attitudes of the white people were realistic, with the son more open to the changes occurring than the parents, who had once been slave owners. The author's note at the end said that she became interested in the Chinese immigrants who came after the Civil War to replace some of the slaves who had gone north. So that's a big part of this book as well. It was fascinating to watch the characters each shed their own prejudices and become friends with the other group, each of which had little knowledge of the other. The book puts great emphasis on the powerful bonding experience of sharing our cultures' foods, as well as the universal human trait of storytelling, and how we find common ground in our stories, which reveal our culture.
The whole book was so well done. It had a lot to say, but the author never lost sight of the story, so it was always entertaining even while getting its messages across. And that's the most important thing--the story always comes first. This is a great story with a funny, realistic, and loveable trickster of a heroine. I loved it, and so did my son.
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