(Middle-grade reading level - no content concerns)
Sugar is one of the few children located on a sugar plantation in Mississippi after the Civil War. In order to supplement the labor force, the plantation owner has brought in several men from China to help cut the sugar cane. Sugar makes friends with the son of the white plantation owner and she also develops a friendship with the Chinese men who have come to work at the plantation. Her ability to make friends and share stories with both groups shows the intimacy of relationships on these small plantations, and how racial dividing lines were not as clear cut as the laws required. Her spunkiness and curiosity in the story is the way young readers will make a connection to the history.
I really appreciated this book because it was written about a time period and a place that hasn't received much coverage in children's literature. This book is definitely written for younger middle-grade students. There is a lightness to the story, as the friendship between Sugar and the white son (Billy) of the plantation owner is somewhat accepted by the family. Although it is certainly not avoided, much of the prejudice and racial hatred these people would have faced during this time period is toned down for the age level of the reader.
From the publisher, “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.”