Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Queen Sugar hadn’t been anywhere on my radar until I started catching promotions for its television series adaptation on Oprah’s network OWN. As the first season of Greenleaf was winding down, commercials said that if viewers liked Greenleaf they would love Queen Sugar. When I learned Ava DuVernay, director of Middle of Nowhere and Selma, was helming the adaptation, I couldn’t wait for the series to begin. With the trailer looking so intriguing, I figured the book on which it was based must be just as good, if not better, as is usually the case. I haven’t begun the series yet, but I loved the book.
Charlie Bordelon thought she’d inherit cash or tenant property after her father’s death. She never imagined owning 800 acres of sugarcane farmland. The young widow—her husband was killed during a robbery–and her eleven-year-old daughter make the cross country drive from Los Angeles to Louisiana to claim her inheritance. They are joined by Charlie’s overbearing grandmother Miss Honey.
Although Charlie hasn’t seen her older, half-brother Ralph Angel since she was 12, both he and Miss Honey believe he should be part owner of the farm. Neither of them knows how much manual labor and her own money Charlie has put up to improve the neglected farm. They’re also clueless about her efforts to secure two reluctant business partners.
On top of dealing with family drama, Charlie must deal with racism and sexism from the older, richer, white male legacy farmers chomping at the bit, hoping and waiting for her to fail so they can swoop in and purchase her land and equipment at a fraction of their worth. Charlie must also ensure Micah is adjusting well to her new home and life. Throughout all this, a budding romance manages to steal moments of Charlie’s attention.
A converging story with that of Charlie’s is that of Ralph Angel. While everyone else regards him as the family’s black sheep, Miss Honey staunchly stands in his corner, and even handles him with kid gloves. Like Charlie, Ralph Angel has lost his spouse and is raising a child on his own. Unlike Charlie, he did not grow up with their father and has had a difficult life, partly because of his childhood, partly because of his own missteps. He has a sense of entitlement with everyone, but because he does seem to have a dark cloud looming over him, the reader will feel empathy for him at times—when they’re not angry with him.
Queen Sugar is an awesome read. It’s full of imperfect relationships, most of which are Charlie’s. In just a year, she encounters new family drama, racial tension and rocky business partnerships. Another great aspect about Queen Sugar is that it’s set in contemporary times, but because of the southern setting also feels like it could be the late 50s or 60s. In an odd way, it adds a charming feeling until there’s mention of an iPod or a cell phone, which reminds me it’s current times. No matter the time, Baszile’s writing is such that you’ll feel as if you’re right there on the Bordelon farm, in the scorching Louisiana sun with Charlie.
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