Title: Sugar Town Queens
Author: Malla Nunn
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 3rd August 2021
Synopsis: From the award-winning author of the CBCA shortlisted When the Ground is Hard, comes a stunning portrait of a family divided and an uplifting story of how friendship saves and heals.
Fifteen-year-old Amandla’s mother has always been strange. For starters, she’s a white woman living in Sugar Town, one of South Africa’s infamous shanty towns. She won’t tell anyone, not even Amandla, about her past. And she has visions, including ones that promise the return of Amandla’s father as if he were a prince in a fairytale, but their hardscrabble life is no fairytale.
Amandla knows her father is long gone – since before Amandla was born – and she’s pretty sure he’s not a prince. He’s just another mystery and missing piece of her mother’s past, and one of the many reasons people in Sugar Town give them strange looks – that and the fact that Amandla is black and her mother is not.
Lately, her mother has been acting even more strangely, so when Amandla finds a mysterious address at the bottom of her mother’s purse along with a large amount of cash, she decides it’s finally time to get answers about her mother’s life. With her best friends by her side, Amandla is ready to take on the devil himself, and as she confronts devastating family secrets and pain that has lasted a generation, taking on the devil is exactly what she must do.
Fifteen-year-old Amandla Harden lives in a post-apartheid South Africa with her white mother, Annalisa. They live in a township not far from Durban called Sugar Town, where there is a class system that is evident in the part of Sugar Two one lives in, but everyone there is black and separate from the white world of South Africa where many still hold onto the ideas and racism of the apartheid era that came to an end in the early 90s and Nelson Mandela’s run as president. Nelson and his dream for a truly democratic society and a nation where no matter the colour of your skin, you would have the same opportunity as the person standing next to them. The sad reality is that this has not happened, in particular, people like Amandla and her mother can stand out – they don’t really fit in Sugar Town in some ways – it’s not what people expect, but in some ways, they’re not accepted in white society – and the reasons why – especially in relation to Annalisa’s family, become clearer as the book goes on.
Amandla’s discovery of a mysterious address in her mother’s bag leads her and her friends Lil Bit and Goodness on a journey that leads them to Annalisa’s past and a world where racism, class and patriarchy have a big impact on everyone and everything in the world. These are intersectional issues that affect many areas of life across the world, and Malla Nunn has unpacked these complexities in this novel. She has made them accessible whilst not shying away from the realities of a post-apartheid South Africa where everyone is navigating a new world, at times not so well whilst clinging to the past, and at other times, making attempts to mend bridges and bring family – whatever their race – back into the fold and show that what really matters is the person you are.
This book presented a South Africa still healing from the wounds of apartheid and finding its way, with a focus on the black and mixed race characters whose experiences were as different from each other in some ways to the white characters, the Bollard family – a family where one person is set in the old ways, another is following that person for most of the book and the others are doing their best, doing whatever they can – to include Amandla and Annalisa. It is beautiful and sad in equal amounts, with moments of joy, fear and pain. With unity and division, where loyalties are tested and pain is felt throughout the story in many ways, for all characters. Identity is explored in all its forms – race, gender and family are the key ones that are threaded out throughout the novel.
This examination of a post-apartheid South Africa, with engaging characters with their own unique personalities, exquisite storytelling and a complex and engaging examination of issues surrounding race, gender, family, politics and patriarchy, Sugar Town Queens is a powerful #OwnVoices book that brings the realities of life in South Africa to a broad readership, and show readers that some people will judge you based on what they see, whilst others will see you for who you truly are, and value you as a person. What a beautiful book that I never wanted to end, but at the same time, wanted to find out what happened and the truth behind Annalisa’s secrets.
Another great #LoveOzYA book.