Saturday, January 30, 2010

Book Review -- Sugar

Sugar Sugar by Bernice L. McFadden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pearl has had her heart ripped out after the murder of her daughter; Sugar has had her life ripped apart by choices made for her by others. Neither knows, until Sugar moves next door to Pearl, what life has in store for them both.

In my quest to find the alternative to The Help I’m trying to immerse myself in African-American authors, whose points of view lend more authenticity and credibility to the stories of African-American characters. I hit gold with Bernice L. McFadden’s, Sugar.

Set in the rural town of Bigelow Arkansas during the early 40’s-50’s, this gut wrenching novel hits you square in the jaw from the opening pages. Pearl’s daughter, Jude, has been found brutally murdered and raped on the side of the road. For the next 15 years, she lives in a vacuum left by Jude’s absence, but in the comfort of her stoic husband, Joe. Sugar, abandoned at birth to be raised by 3 sisters who operate a “whore-house,” is raised to become a commodity in the family business – a life no one should be subjected. When Sugar moves to Bigelow, the town is horrified. They ignore her, gossip about her and ultimately want her gone. Pearl takes Sugar under her wing and tries to give her a friend for the first time in her life and to recreate for herself what it would be like to have a daughter. When they both try to learn each other’s histories, they are surprised at what they find. Ultimately, Sugar’s relationship with Pearl and Joe puts her at risk with one of her “tricks”, and the results are devastating.

This novel is not for the faint of heart. It is brutal, graphic and gruesome. Life as a “whore” is ugly, filthy, and humiliating. Sugar’s life is not her own. She is nothing but a shell. But the love and friendship Pearl offers to Sugar, shows that there is a chance she can turn her life around. Ms. McFadden’s characters are multifaceted and alive, even if their circumstances show otherwise.

In the end, this novel will envelop you and break your heart, if only for the fact that I’m sure these experiences were the necessary evil for some women.

For the sensitive reader: No question, I would avoid this book. But for all others, go get a copy at the library now!

Book source: public library

Although, this was not one of my original selections, this book qualifies for my Women Unbound Challenge.

View all my reviews >>


Shanda McKeehan said...

Thanks for your review. I have to read this in a few months for a book club and this is a nice preview.

A Bookshelf Monstrosity said...

I'm not a 'sensitive reader', so I'll be looking into this one.

Kim McLari said...

As a black novelist seeking to tell the internal truth about the lives of black women, I say: thank you.

It makes a difference. It really does.

Kim McLarin

Nicole Marsh said...

This really sounds interesting. I think I might go and get it.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I think when you seek authenticity in the South in that era, "brutal, graphic and gruesome" can easily come into play. I suspect that's why The Help is so popular. It's only mildly bad, and the outcome is good. I could see that The Help was sugar-coated (no double entendre intended), but on the other hand, could I read Sugar? I don't think so. Yet I do think it's important to understand that The Help portrayed a relatively rosy picture. Thanks for the review!

Heather O. said...

Wow, this novel packs a punch. But I did want to comment on a few things.

I read somewhere that the author of the Kite Runner wanted to end his book much earlier than he did. If you've read it, you'll know what part I'm talking about, a graphic and tragic scene with the main character's nephew that literally made me gasp "No!" out loud. The author's agent told him that NO WAY could he end the book that way, and that even though they were going for a real life portrayal, you can't drag the reader along through such horror, and then kick them in the gut, with no redemptive moment.
And so the last chapter, which isn't exactly a happy ending, was added.

It was this redemptive moment that I missed from Sugar. I knew from your review that it ended tragically, so I wasn't even looking for a happy ending. But you need a redemptive moment. We don't get that at all--just wailing women and grief piled on grief. And that ending...without giving too much away, I had a hard time with the fact that you are almost glad that tragedy befalls so as to save folks from the pain of unknowingly committing incest. These are the choices that are given to the reader? Incest or tragedy? Surely there are other ways of ending this book. It didn't have to have an ending of happiness that was unbelievable and negated the essence of the characters, but there should have been something that doesn't leave the reader feeling completely empty.

Julie said...

I am really looking forward to reading this book, although Heather O DID manage to put some spoilers in her comment.

Unfortunately, sometimes in real life there ARE no redemptive moments. Life for many people is suffering upon suffering highlighted by a good thing, then more suffering and the end.

To read a novel that doesn't sugarcoat this will be difficult and likely heartbreaking, but also illuminating. I wish that more readers would push themselves to read books that aren't merely escapist, but that shine the light on a truth that is lived by many, in order to give them a sense of empathy of rather than superiority over their fellow human beings.

Thank you for a great review and thank you for stopping by my little spot on the web.

Julie @ Knitting and Sundries