Thursday, August 28, 2014

Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile - One of the Best Books of 2014

It's an interesting(?) story how I came to read Queen Sugar.  Stacy at Recycle Books gave me an ARC (advanced reading copy) of the book probably 6 or 7 months ago.  And it sat in my TBR (to be read) pile all that time.  In fact, somehow it slipped to the bottom - the very bottom - of about 12 books.  Sunday, I was looking at the TBR pile for my next book.  For some reason, Queen Sugar caught my eye.  And I grabbed it.  Here's the funny part (is the suspense killing you?).  Kepler's is having its next Book Swap on Saturday night, September 13.  And Natalie is the featured author.  That should be the necessary motivation, right?  But, wait.  I will be out of town that weekend.  I won't even see her!  That's it.  I still can't figure out why I grabbed it.  Boy, am I glad I did.  In fact, when I was only a quarter of the way through it, I knew I wanted Natalie and her book for a future Recycle Book Club meeting (she lives in San Francisco).  Thankfully, she agreed. She's coming sometime in December.  I'll keep you all posted on the date.  And whether you come to see her or not, please read the book.

Mr./Ms. Goodreads tells us what it's about:

Why exactly Charley Bordelon’s late father left her eight hundred sprawling acres of sugarcane land in rural Louisiana is as mysterious as it was generous. Recognizing this as a chance to start over, Charley and her eleven-year-old daughter, Micah, say good-bye to Los Angeles.
They arrive just in time for growing season but no amount of planning can prepare Charley for a Louisiana that’s mired in the past: as her judgmental but big-hearted grandmother tells her, cane farming is always going to be a white man’s business. As the sweltering summer unfolds, Charley must balance the overwhelming challenges of her farm with the demands of a homesick daughter, a bitter and troubled brother, and the startling desires of her own heart.
Penguin has a rich tradition of publishing strong Southern debut fiction—from Sue Monk Kidd to Kathryn Stockett to Beth Hoffman. In Queen Sugar, we now have a debut from the African American point of view. Stirring in its storytelling of one woman against the odds and initimate in its exploration of the complexities of contemporary southern life, Queen Sugar is an unforgettable tale of endurance and hope.

I have a lot to say about this book, but I'm afraid I'm going to lose you (yes, I know I could have eliminated the whole 1st paragraph).  So, I will resort to some bullet-pointing.  Here are just a few of the things about the book that I liked:

1.  I was oftentimes surprised.  I had a lot of raised eyebrows, OMG's, and "oof's."
2.  Charley's brother, Ralph Angel, is complex and not always easy to pin a label on.
3.  I learned a ton about the sugar cane industry without being the least bored.  In fact, it was fascinating stuff.
4.  Like Beth Hoffman's female protagonist in Looking for Me, Charley doesn't need a man to make the story more enjoyable or to move it along (I'm not telling you whether she ends up with one or not).
5.  Charley's family seems like anybody's/everybody's family.  I was only conscious of race when it came up in context.
6.  There are many great secondary characters in addition to Charley, Micah (her daughter), Ralph Angel, and Miss Honey (her grandmother).
7.  The book is very well-written.  There is a scene on page 118 where Charley literally eats dirt.  A reader can practically taste what Charley tastes.
8.  I didn't cry as often as I sometimes do.  Yet, there are many emotional moments, some of them subtle (y'all know how subtle I am!).  And there are a number of scenes that, although they don't produce tears, are still just so darn satisfying.

Was I succinct enough for you?  Did you get through my list?  Good.  Just read the dang book.


  1. I'm glad you enjoyed Natalie's debut, I did too! And I appreciate your comment about how, like Teddi, Charley didn't need a man to make her feel complete or move the story forward. Thanks, Lloyd!

  2. I love the debut southern fiction that Penguin mentions and with the addition of your gushing, I will be adding this to my list.

  3. Sounds amazing.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.