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Review: Sugar by Bernice L. McFadden

Title: Sugar
Author: Bernice L. McFadden
First Published: January 2001
Publisher: Plume Books
Source: Received for free from the publisher for review
229 pages




Summary
On a hot sunny day, while every resident of Bigelow, Arkansas, awaited a storm, Sugar Lacey waltzes straight through the town to take up residence in Number 10, Grove Street, as Pearl Taylor's neighbor. As curious women strive to get a glance at Sugar, Pearl's curiosity is aroused. When Pearl finally sees Sugar, she is shocked by her similarity in profile to Jude, her daughter who was brutally murdered more than fifteen years ago. Pearl strives to connect with this woman, while Sugar yearns to stay away from people. What follows is an unlikely friendship over a sweet potato pie - a friendship that transforms both women and affects many other lives.

I had read the first page of this book, soon as it arrived at my doorstep. Right then I was hooked, and had to resist from reading further. Bernice McFadden's writing is so beautiful, that I just lost myself in it. The very first page was stunning both in its prose and in it's sharp narration.

My opinion
In the Spring of 1940, a little girl, Jude, is found dead in Bigelow, Arkansas, in the most brutal manner possible. Her death sends the whole community into shock and devastates her parents, Pearl and Joe Taylor.

The murder had white man written all over it. (That was only a half truth.) But no one would say it above a whisper. It was 1940. It was Bigelow, Arkansas. It was a black child. Need any more be said?

Fifteen years later, Pearl is still trying to come to terms with Jude's death. In the Spring of that year, when Sugar Lacey arrives in Bigelow, Pearl is struck by Sugar's resemblance to Jude in her profile. Pearl's initial attempts to befriend Sugar do not win her Sugar's confidence. But when it finally does, what she learns about Sugar shames and angers her.

Sugar Lacey was abandoned by her mother at birth. Instead, she was brought up by the Lacey sisters, who run a brothel house. When Sugar gets older, prostitution becomes her sole profession, and it takes her through St. Louis and Detroit, where her dire experiences teach her many a lesson.

I enjoyed Sugar for its story, character focus and the writing. As I followed the friendship between Sugar and Pearl, I was quite warmed by the positive influences each had on the other. On one side, Pearl was trying to revive her old life that she had lost after her daughter's death. Her sex life had disappeared and she still despaired after Jude. Sugar, on the other hand, was trying to come to terms with her choice of profession and with her family history, or rather, lack of it. Each tried to help the other through various decisions. And when Pearl began to show the first streaks of wildness in her nature, I quite whooped with joy!

The locals' excessive interest in Sugar laced with their contempt for a woman of "her type" made for a humorous reflection. None of the women wanted Sugar there, but they all made initial attempts to visit her at home to have a peek at her. Occasionally, the novel takes on a light thread and provides a few humorous passages. Other times, it takes on a dark note and chills me in its meaning.

Sugar does great justice to the characters. In spite of being just 229 pages, the character development is impressive. Sugar's sharpness and Pearl's quiet strength are vividly felt, while Joe Taylor's love for and support of his wife are echoed through the pages. In addition, I could strongly share in the happiness and sadness, exultation and despair felt by the characters at various points. While it didn't exactly arouse strong emotions in me, the prose definitely had me empathize with the characters.

Somehow, the ending didn't work that well for me. It wasn't a bad ending, but I didn't find it outstanding either. I was pleased to see all loose ends tied up, but the threads of coincidence that ran through them disappointed me. Nevertheless, this is a great book to read, and Bernice McFadden's beautiful writing had me totally immersed in the book. It's the kind of writing that flows very smoothly without any jerks. I am now looking forward to reading her new book, Glorious!

Title Demystified
Sugar Lacey, the titular protagonist is quite a marvelous character. I couldn't help but embrace her character affectionately, both for her sharpness of wit and for her no-nonsense nature. She didn't care if the whole world looked down on her and spoke about her behind her back, she was her own mistress. As she went through some heart-wrenching incidents, I felt quite sad for her.

Cover Art Demystified
The theme, the setting and the protagonist's beauty and style of dressing are so well captured in this picture. This is one of the best book covers I've seen, and it has to do with the well-captured silhouette against the brilliant yellow fields as the backdrop!

What did you think?
Have you read this book? I'd like to know what you thought about it. Please leave your review link in the comments, or a brief opinion, if you hadn't reviewed it.

Comments

I haven't read this but am intrigued.... Do you think it is appropriate for a high school library or is it aimed at adult readers?
Katy said…
I enjoyed this one too. And I agree with you--the cover is perfect!
Oh, this sounds excellent! Very interesting plot. I'm sure I'd enjoy this book so I'll keep an eye out for it!

Emidy
from Une Parole
Tales of Whimsy said…
Thank you for the wonderful honest review :)
bermudaonion said…
This book sounds like it would really make you think. Great review!
Ana S. said…
It's too bad the ending wasn't better, but this still sounds like something I absolutely ought to read. I love the themes it deals with.
Athira said…
Helen, it does have explicit sex scene and private body part descriptions. So I would say it is more directed towards adult readers. But the POC theme would suit the high school crowd too.

Katy, glad to hear you enjoyed this too!! :)

Emidy, I hope you do choose to read it!

Juju, you are welcome! :)

Kathy, very much! It's very thought-provoking!

Nymeth, I'm sure you will enjoy it. This is a kind of book I will even re-read since there's so much in it I keep learning each time.
Stephanie said…
I have been wanting to read this novel for a while. I love the way you described the character development. I am a sucker for great character driven novels. :-)
Athira said…
Stephanie, I'm with you! Character-driven novels are my weakness as well!! This one will be right up your alley!

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