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Cover image for Sugar
1st ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Little, Brown, 2013.
Physical Description:
272 p. ; 20 cm.
Reading Level:
430 L Lexile
Sugar has spent all of her ten years on the River Road sugar plantation, most of them as a slave in the sugar fields. Slavery has been abolished, but life is still tough: Sugar works long days cutting cane until her hands bleed, her mother died, and her father left her behind. Sugar yearns to learn more about the world, and she gets to when Chinese laborers come to work in the fields. Now, she finds herself building unexpected relationships and looking toward a brighter future.


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From Jewell Parker Rhodes, the author of Towers Falling and Ninth Ward (a Coretta Scott King Honor Book and a Today show Al's Book Club for Kids pick) comes a tale of a strong, spirited young girl who rises beyond her circumstances and inspires others to work toward a brighter future.
Ten-year-old Sugar lives on the River Road sugar plantation along the banks of the Mississippi. Slavery is over, but laboring in the fields all day doesn't make her feel very free. Thankfully, Sugar has a knack for finding her own fun, especially when she joins forces with forbidden friend Billy, the white plantation owner's son.
Sugar has always yearned to learn more about the world, and she sees her chance when Chinese workers are brought in to help harvest the cane. The older River Road folks feel threatened, but Sugar is fascinated. As she befriends young Beau and elder Master Liu, they introduce her to the traditions of their culture, and she, in turn, shares the ways of plantation life. Sugar soon realizes that she must be the one to bridge the cultural gap and bring the community together. Here is a story of unlikely friendships and how they can change our lives forever.

Author Notes

Jewell Parker Rhodes is an award-winning author. Her books include Voodoo Dreams, Magic City, Douglass' Women, Season, Moon, Hurricane, and the children's book, Ninth Ward. She is also the author of the writing guides Free Within Ourselves: Fiction Lessons for Black Authors and The African American Guide to Writing and Publishing Nonfiction.

Her work has been published in Germany, Italy, Canada, Turkey, and the United Kingdom and reproduced in audio and for NPR's "Selected Shorts." Rhodes honors include: the American Book Award, the National Endowment of the Arts Award in Fiction, the Black Caucus of the American Library Award for Literary Excellence, the PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Award for Outstanding Writing, and two Arizona Book Awards.

Rhodes is the Virginia G. Piper Chair in Creative Writing and Artistic Director of Piper Global Engagement at Arizona State University.

(Bowker Author Biography) Jewell Parker Rhodes is a professor of creative writing and American literature at Arizona State University. She lives in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

In 1870 Louisiana, five years after the Thirteenth Amendment outlawed slavery, Sugar is still bound to the crop whose name she shares: "I'm ten now. I'm not a slave anymore. I'm free. Except from sugar." Sugar and her mother had been waiting for the return of her father, who was sold shortly after Sugar was born; when Sugar's mother died, her daughter was left with nowhere to go. Sugar's caring guardians and her occasional adventures in the woods are bright spots in her life, but she feels left behind as friends head north. When "Chinamen" are hired to work on the plantation, Sugar's community feels threatened; however, Sugar's intuition, curiosity, and spirit move her to befriend the perceived enemy and bring everyone together. Rhodes (Ninth Ward) paints a realistic portrait of the hard realities of Sugar's life, while also incorporating Br'er Rabbit stories and Chinese folktales. Sugar's clipped narration is personable and engaging, strongly evoking the novel's historical setting and myriad racial tensions, making them accessible and meaningful to beginning readers. Ages 8-12. Agent: Michael Bourret, Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Horn Book Review

Sugar, a ten-year-old African American girl in Reconstruction Louisiana, hates everything about sugar: "Sugar bites a hundred times, breaking skin and making you bleed...Sugar calls -- all kinds of bugs, crawling, inching, flying...I hate, hate, hate sugar." The work on a sugarcane plantation is brutal, and Sugar's mother died two years ago. The community of cane workers, all former slaves, is equal parts loving and disapproving of Sugar's high spirits, but she's increasingly lonely as the other families move away for a better life in the North. When the plantation owner's son, Billy, starts making friendly overtures, Sugar is ready to accept, though they both know they aren't supposed to play together. Her outgoing nature helps her reach out to the new group of Chinese sugarcane workers, and her friendship with the youngest of them enlarges her view of the world and its possibilities. Rhodes vividly depicts Sugar's experiences and sensations, from the razor-sharp leaves of the cane field to the sights and smells of the Mississippi River, using short, direct, and evocative sentences. The novel's plot may be a little predictable, but with her endearing feistiness, realistically shifting moods, and capacity for friendship, Sugar is an engaging and memorable character. susan dove lempke (c) Copyright 2013. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Booklist Review

Mercy Bella Legowski-Gracia, aka Sugar, serves as the primary caregiver at home. A Polish and Puerto Rican high-school junior whose inherited family trait is obesity, she suffers ridicule in her small New Hampshire community. Bullied at school and work, Sugar's greatest hardships come from her demanding, emotionally abusive mother, who is bedridden from diabetes, and from her physically abusive older brother, Skunk, and his friends. Hall portrays Sugar as a knowing self-saboteur whose binges are her way of coping with insults. Fortunately, new friend Even (his father misspelled Evan) sees Sugar differently. To him, her smile, her inherent kindness, her love of sewing and design, and her sense of responsibility outweigh her physical challenges. When tragedy strikes and Sugar responds by taking control of her life, a school counselor and other family members come forward to help her to succeed. Riordan Hall's depiction of the depths of the binging cycle and Sugar's self-deprecating inner voices, and her battle to build a future, will resonate with readers who struggle with addictive behaviors, helping them believe they, too, can persevere.--Bush, Gail Copyright 2015 Booklist

School Library Journal Review

Gr 7 Up-With a troubled home life including an abusive, bedridden mother and bullying younger brother, 17-year-old Sugar Legowski-Gracia finds her only solace in eating. Then a chance meeting with Even, a charming new boy who's as good-looking as he is troubled, forces her to confront her reality and make hard choices. Narrator Tara Sands embodies the role of Sugar completely, filling her voice with strain and suffering, cracking in all the right places, as Sugar struggles to deal with her family and her self-image. Sands then shifts expertly into pure elation and awe, giving Sugar a whispery, excited tone when Even takes her on two amazing outings to celebrate the holidays and her birthday. Though Sands's biggest achievement is creating a realistic, sympathetic heroine, she is also able to tackle the gravelly drawl of Sugar's tyrannical mother and her expletive-spewing younger brother, among other characters. VERDICT A bittersweet coming-of-age tale that will have listeners cheering as Sugar faces her future with hope. ["A unique perspective on familial abuse/bullying": SLJ 5/1/15 review of the Amazon Skyscape book.]-Shari Fesko, Southfield Public Library, MI © Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

Can a true friend help Sugar find her way out of her gingerbread prison? Mercy Bella Legowski-Gracia, or Sugar, as everyone calls her, deals with stress by eating. And she has a lot of stress in her lifeher bedridden mother, her abusive brother, her absent father, the bullies she encounters at school and around town every single day. The huge amount of stress means she eats a lot, and her increasing weight makes her even more depressed and perpetuates the vicious cycle. Until Even comes along. Even has his own share of dysfunctional family interactions, and whatever hurts in him reaches out to everything that hurts in Sugar, making them close friends despite the ever increasing disruptions from the outside world. While it's refreshing to find a narrative from the point of view of an obese teenager who has never known any kind of luck, the book doesn't manage to deliver a distinctive experience. Part of the problem is a predictable plot that's heavy on canned epiphany, as in "Maybe it's like embracing the name Sugar. It's part of who I am, maybe not a proud part, but it's shaped me. Denying it would be denying part of me...." Too much self-help language gets in the way of a realistic experience. An intriguing effort that doesn't live up to its potential. (Fiction. 14-18) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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