Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile
Hardcover: 372 pages
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books; 1st edition (February 6, 2014)
ISBN-13: 978-0670026135

Queen Sugar follows Charly, a 30 something California-born art teacher who has just inherited 800 acres of sugar cane farmland in Louisiana. With her young daughter in tow and a past full of memories of her dead husband she makes the trek to the South to try to make a go of it. The problem is she has no idea what she’s doing, she’s already behind in getting her crop ready and she can’t sell it according to the terms of the will. When she moves in with her grandmother and butts head with local farmers who see her as a threat at worst and an interloper at best she nearly buckles under the pressure. Add in a ne’er do well older brother with a grudge and you’ve got a recipe for family strife, financial stress and all around trouble.

The book is quiet. Let me reiterate, it is quiet and at times funny, but there isn’t high drama here, just good old fashioned boot strapping. It’s a farm novel, a country tale with a little about love and a lot about farming. There’s tension between Charly and the daughter and some exploration into what depression can cost you, but I’ll say that I had a hard time relating to Charly and how she interacted with her daughter. She seemed hands off in a way that I found culturally foreign. Maybe it’s a California thing. Maybe I’m expecting all black families to interact the same way (which is unfair), but the child seemed spoiled and the emotional expectations Charly set for  herself seemed ridicilous. There’s a scene where the girl throws her mother’s wedding ring in the sugar cane in a fit of anger and I almost stopped reading entirely when I realized there would be no consequences for it, not even a scolding. As the kids say, wheredeydodatat?

I loved how Charly interacted with her business partners, but the character of Ralph Angel, the brother was  a hard one for me to swallow. His mother was mentally ill and his father didn’t really pay much attention to him in his formative years, and I think we’re meant to feel sorry for him, but he’s a screw up with an inflated sense of himself who loves his son, but makes bad decision, after bad decision, after bad decision and it becomes a broken record. I found myself skipping pages that focused on him, waiting for him to die, because someone like him is too reckless and too stupid to survive any good story. I’ve heard the TV show is different.

Speaking of television, I haven’t watched the show, but there are stark differences from the book that you should note. The television show has got more drama laced into the story to make it less House on the Prairie and more Empire. There is an additional sibling and infidelities and political intrigue, none of which exist in the book. While I’m sure both stories are worth diving into they are two very different stories. It seems as if they were in a class and given the same prompt and then took them into different directions. So be aware if you’re making the switch from one to the other.

This book is perfect for:

  • Anyone looking for a summer read. You can feel the Louisiana heat wafting off the pages.
  • People who like romances set on the farm. It may seem like a stretch but it isn’t.
  • Anyone who needs something to help them feel like they can beat the odds.

So, have you read it? Let me know what you thought.

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