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Sugar book cover

Sugar, by Jewell Parker Rhodes; Little, Brown
Books for Young Readers: New York, 2013;

Ten-year-old Sugar lives on the River Road Plantation in Mississippi in the early 1800s. Sugar is a young African-American girl whose father died during the Civil War and whose mother died of sickness shortly after. As Sugar spends her time cutting cane, Mister Wills, the plantation owner, hires more cane workers from China. These men befriend Sugar as she learns a new culture, but the workers in River Road do not like the Chinese men because they are worried that the Chinese men will take over the land. Sugar wants the Chinese men to have equality in River Road. She says, “I like the Chinese men. Reverend, don’t you preach, ‘Treat other folks like you want to be treated’?”

Sugar cut cane until the sun turned red, orange, yellow, and pink, and faded into night. As Sugar says one night, “I stare at our shadows, lying, side by side, on the porch wood.” In the first few pages, I was shocked that Sugar hates her name! She throws up and gags if she eats sugar. As soon as the villagers finish cane working, they would eat the stalks. But because Sugar worked on the cane farm since she was two days old, she is tired of smelling the scent of sugar. It reminds her of the life she wants to leave behind.

Though I am very different from Sugar, my family’s history is similar to Sugar’s amazing life story. My grandfather worked on a sugar cane farm for years. He grew up in a small Indian village called Panetha. He woke up at four a.m., took a shower, and prayed to God, and then at six a.m. set out for farming. He was about Sugar’s age then, and he either worked until noon or sometimes until six p.m. He worked with at least ten to fifteen people beside him. He told me that he cut sugar cane with a big knife. Inside the sugar cane is a solid fiber, making sugar cane juice. On the outside, the cane is not prickly, but be careful about the leaves! They are sharp and pointy. He sweated in the over 100-degree summers in India. He said he loved to farm. But like Sugar, he had a dream. His dream was to study and to come to America. In the late 1960s he came to America from India, just like the Chinese men came from their home country. And like my grandfather, Sugar achieved her dream to leave the sugar cane farm.

I also relate to how Sugar bridged cultures. On holidays, Sugar encourages River Road to celebrate Chinese holidays. I encourage my school to celebrate Hindu festivities such as our Lower School Diwali Assembly. I hoped for grades pre-K to sixth to learn about our holiday, a day filled with joy and happiness.

I think you should read Sugar, by Jewell Parker Rhodes, because I learned so much from the story of her struggle. I think that reading from authors of different backgrounds shows you new perspectives. I also recommend this story because it shows love of friends and warmth of adults. I hope my review will encourage you to read the book.

Sugar Sonia Patel Banker
Sonia Patel Banker, 9
San Francisco, California