Summary: Sugar, a young African-American girl, lives in the South where slavery was reluctantly let go of just recently. However, she still breaks her back every day harvesting the prickly, sticky, mean sugar cane which she is named after, and hates. Sugar craves adventure in her all-work, no-play life, leading her to befriend the (white) plantation owner’s son. More change arrives as Chinese workers threaten Sugar and her friends’ jobs. Many of her friends leave for the mysterious North. As she is torn between an uncommon friendship and normality, adventure and safety, the unknown and the known, Sugar starts to become the bridge between different groups of people.
Recommendation: Okay, I have to admit, this book’s reading level is a little low for middle schoolers. But I still enjoyed every bit of it. The way that Sugar brings different people together – regardless of race, age, or wealth – labels Sugar as a feel-good book. It’s a very nice novel to read, even though one of the central parts of the plot rings highly unlikely. It’s a little hard to believe that the wealthy white land owner, still used to the times of slavery, doesn’t at least fire Sugar or punish his son after the two become friends and wreck general havoc around the plantation. I suppose it’s nice how the book explores the racial divide of that era in a warm and fuzzy way, but the way Rhodes describes some of the social interactions might leave a false impression on younger readers. But don’t cast it away in shame; Sugar is still a worthwhile read.
Favorite Passage: “What’s a pillow?” “A cushion for your head. Don’t you know anything?” “I know plenty.” I say, but I’m thinking, What do you need a head cushion for?