From School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Through the sharp eyes of a 10-year-old, readers experience the hardship of life on a Louisiana sugar plantation after Emancipation. Clever, courageous, and perceptive, Sugar is basically an orphan. Her mother died, and her father was sold five years before the story begins. She lives alone next door to Mister and Missus Beale, who have become her surrogate parents. Sugar wonders why she still can't do what she wants and why she still must work and live under miserable conditions. When she becomes friendly with Billy Wills, the son of the plantation owner, she can't understand why their friendship must be secret. Her feistiness and sense of loyalty shine in the poignant scenes when she insists on being with Billy when he is sick. When Mr. Wills hires Chinese workers to fill the void left by former slaves going north, Sugar is fascinated by their ways and their stories. She loves the Br'er Rabbit trickster tales Mister Beale tells in which Rabbit outsmarts the seemingly more clever hyena. As in Ninth Ward (Little, Brown, 2010), Rhodes has created a remarkable protagonist as she artfully brings American history to life. She shines a light on bigotry and the difficulty former slave owners and former slaves had adjusting to "freedom," and her skillful prose creates vibrant images of the story's milieu. Above all, though, this beautiful novel instantly grips readers' attention and emotions, holding them until the last word.-Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJα(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Ten-year-old Sugar, named after the cane she sharecrops with other freed people, hates her name. It makes her think of her father being sold off into slavery, her mother who died from the hard work in the fields, and her own life of toil. She would rather be playing, but she is the last little one around after all the other young people left the plantation to live in the North. However, her own way of life is threatened once she learns through her verboten friendship with the plantation owner’s son that his father plans to bring in labor from China. Rhodes creates a unique cultural snapshot of Reconstruction Era Louisiana by introducing Chinese immigrants to the mix. Drawing inspiration from Lucy M. Cohen’s Chinese in the Post–Civil War South (1984), Rhodes creates a cross-cultural exchange that includes trickster tales, food appreciation, and good old-fashioned friendship. Sugar is an appealing, adventurous heroine full of curiosity and joy, an element sorely needed in light of the heavy subject. Grades 3-5. --Courtney Jones