LitStack Recs: Queen Sugar & Life Would be Perfect if I Lived in That House

Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszilequrrm

“Queen Sugar” is the story of Charley Bordelon, a young, widowed California schoolteacher with an 11 year old daughter who learns after her father’s death that he has left her a Louisiana sugar cane farm – something she had no idea he had purchased. Despite knowing nothing about farming, Charley feels like it’s time to turn a new page in her life so she pulls up stakes and returns to her father’s stomping grounds in the bayou country, reconnecting with family there. It doesn’t take long for her to realize that growing sugar cane is meticulous, back breaking work and running a stand of sugar cane takes a whole heckuva lot more than good intentions.

Along with the horticultural challenges comes the cultural and social considerations of a young black woman living in the South. Add in that Charley’s combustible half brother, Ralph Angel, shows up at the homestead about the same time, with a six year old son and a chip on his shoulder that has been smoldering for years, and you have the makings of a gripping story full of good times, bad times, tension, despair, and a testament to hard work and family.

Author Baszile does a wonderful job with the characters in this book, not just Charley and Ralph Angel, but others who call Saint Josephine Parish home: wise old Prosper Denton, who forgoes a well deserved retirement to help Charley learn the ins-and-outs of cane farming and becomes a mentor and indispensable resource; indomitable Miss Honey, Charley’s devout grandmother, who rules the roost and shows her love through her cooking; Hollywood, Ralph Angel’s best friend when they were boys, who now makes a living mowing lawns… these and others make the book come alive. The action is somewhat predictable, but the characters shine, and makes “Queen Sugar” a read to be savored.

—Sharon Browning