Sugar: A Novel

Sugar: A Novel

by Bernice L. McFadden

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From a critically acclaimed voice in African-American contemporary fiction comes a novel Ebony praised for its “unforgettable images, unique characters, and moving story that keeps the pages turning until the end.”

A young prostitute comes to Bigelow, Arkansas, to start over, far from her haunting past. Sugar moves next door to Pearl, who is still grieving for the daughter who was murdered fifteen years before. Over sweet-potato pie, an unlikely friendship begins, transforming both women's lives—and the life of an entire town.

Sugar brings a Southern African-American town vividly to life, with its flowering magnolia trees, lingering scents of jasmine and honeysuckle, and white picket fences that keep strangers out—but ignorance and superstition in. To read this novel is to take a journey through loss and suffering to a place of forgiveness, understanding, and grace.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101143971
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/02/2001
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 4,034
File size: 349 KB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Bernice L. McFadden is the author of several critically acclaimed novels including Praise Song for the Butterflies (longlisted for the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction), Sugar, Loving Donovan, Nowhere Is a Place, The Warmest December, Gathering of Waters (a New York Times Editors' Choice and one of the 100 Notable Books of 2012), Glorious, and The Book of Harlan (winner of a 2017 American Book Award and the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work, Fiction). She is a four-time Hurston/Wright Legacy Award finalist, as well as the recipient of three awards from the BCALA.

Read an Excerpt

JUDE was dead.

On a day when the air held a promise of summer and people laughed aloud, putting aside for a brief moment their condition, color and where they ranked among humanity, Jude, dangling on the end of childhood and reaching out toward womanhood, should have been giggling with others her age among the sassafras or dipping her bare feet in Hodges Lake and shivering against the winter chill it still clutched. Instead she was dead.

She'd been taken down by the sharp blade of jealousy, and her womanhood-so soft, pink and virginal-was sliced from her and laid to rest on the side of the road near her body. Her pigtails, thick dark ropes of hair, lay splayed out above her head, mixed in with the pine needles and road dust. Her dress, white and yellow, her favorite colors, was pulled up to her neck, revealing the small bosom that had developed over the winter.

The murder had white man written all over it. (That was only a half truth.) But no one would say it above a whisper. It was 1940. It was Bigelow, Arkansas. It was a black child. Need any more be said?

No one cared except the people who carried the same skin color. No one cared except the parents who had nursed her, stayed up all night soothing and rocking her when she was colicky. Applauded her when she took her first steps and cried when the babbling, gurgling sounds that came from her sweet mouth finally formed the words Mamma and then later, Papa.

They cared. The parents of sweet, sweet Jude, who would never hurt a fly, no less a human being. Look at what they did to her!

Word first came via the Edelson boy. He'd run all the way and was breathless when he arrived. Black John, the blacksmith, had found her about a mile down the road and covered her body with a Crocker sack while he put himself in the right frame of mind to start coming. He had to pop the boy upside the head, twice, this just to get him moving instead of gawking.

Black John remained behind, gathering the broken child into his arms and placing her gently in his wagon among the bags and crates of field provisions. He stood looking at the beaten body of this almost woman. In life, she was a tall child, strapping, like her father, but in death, she seemed so small. Perhaps it was because of her broken bones and the way her skin sank in the places between the breaks that made her look so tiny and uneven.

He shook his head in pity and looked up into the heavens for an answer. An arrow of blackbirds blinded the sun and then moved on. If that was clarification of why and what lay ahead, Black John never said, but he would think back on this day again in fifteen years' time.

His wife had helped birth this child, as she had most of the Bigelow children. She would take it hard, like she'd lost one of her own. He looked back at the child again and a heavy sigh escaped him. "No rest for the weary," he muttered and then couldn't think of why that would come to mind at all.

He was procrastinating. Standing there behind his wagon of potatoes, turnips, cabbage, yam and Jude, he was stretching the space between his arrival and the scene that would follow. Crying eyes and screaming mouths. He'd seen plenty of grief in his life. But grief let loose from a woman who lost a child-that was the worst type of grief of all. If you could, you'd try to avoid that sort. Because grief that comes from loss of child just took a piece of you away each time you met up with it.

And if you found yourself among it too often for too long, you'd certainly die way before your time.

No, Black John was in no hurry to go.

The sun sat watching curiously on its perch, delaying its descent into late afternoon. It was long past three and Black John's shadow stood stout before him, watching and waiting. He removed his straw hat, the one that belonged to his daddy before him. The one that he inherited when his uncle handed it to him with a quiet word. Black John could never remember the exact word that was spoken, but it left an emptiness in him. The strawberry-colored stain stiffening the center part of the hat's hump confused him more than scared him because his daddy hated strawberries.

Black John fingered the stain and looked back at the dead child, her dress blotched with her own strawberry stains. "Well," he muttered in resignation, as he pulled his handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the sweat from his brow and the back of his neck.

He moved to the cab of the truck and removed a second empty Crocker sack from the floor. Returning to Jude he looked her over once again and shook his head in pity and then tucked the Crocker sacks around her body and went to the left of the wagon. That's when he saw it. Glistening in the sun. His shadow stepped forward and shaded the glare. Black John knew immediately what it was, although he had never seen one without a woman's support, protection and guidance behind it; something like that, once seen, always known. He leaned down and with the sweat-soiled handkerchief retrieved Jude's womanhood. He would later recount (and he often did) how it quivered in the palm of his hand.

His mule closed the distance in a slow saunter that barely disturbed the road dust. Black John looked over and his shadow looked back at him. Ahead he could see the small pond of black faces, eyes big with wanting to know, eyes big with wanting to see. Black John rode right into the middle and when he stepped down from his wagon he was six years old again, his father's straw hat, with the strawberry stain stiff and dry on its hump, in his hands. He pushed through the worn and patched sea of skirts, fought through the tree-long legs of men and bit down hard on a hand that tried to cover his too-young-for-death eyes. When he made it to the clearing there was his father. Beaten so hard and for so long that his skin had bubbled up purple. The top of his head was open and there he saw precious memories and somehow-someday dreams wrapped in I Love You colors spilled out for all of Bigelow to see. Then came the wail and Black John lost a little bit of his time on earth.

That's what scared him now. The silence. The absence of that mournful homage that broke your heart, stole time from Black John and pushed the most pious to question God.

Pearl's mouth hung open, but no sound came. Her heart had broken into tiny pieces that rose up, plugging her throat, allowing only breath to pass.

She tried again when Black John laid Jude's battered body to rest at her feet, the beaten, brutalized, eyeless body of her baby girl; but all she could do was claw at her own eyes and scratch at her throat, drawing blood instead of sound. Pearl was fighting. Fighting with the reality that there would be no more candy sweet kisses and hugs that could magically erase a problem, worry or fear. In the halls of their home, who would skip, dance and sing so loud that the dogwoods raised their branches in delight?

Who would call her "Mamma honey baby" in that teasing, innocent voice that only Jude possessed?

And there would no longer be a reason for her to answer: "Jude baby doll." These thoughts ran through her mind until her head ached with grief. Searing hot tears fell heavy from her eyes and landed on her bosom, soaking through the black cotton dress and white brassiere, stinging her skin and scorching her heart. The pain. The pain!

Later, she turned her face toward the heavens, unable to bear the sight of the sorrow-faced men as they covered her baby's coffin with brandy brown dirt. She had prepared herself to be taken from the earth at the very moment she heard the muffled sound of the first shovelful hit the top of the small wooden box. She had asked the Lord to release her from this life and allow her to walk beside her sweet Jude as she entered the Kingdom of Heaven.

But with each shovelful of earth, the sound that marked where Jude lay, quieted, and with the last sprinkling Pearl swayed suddenly and was aware of being lifted from the ground. She smiled, believing the Lord had answered her prayers. She quickly opened her eyes to take in, for what she thought to be the last time, the faces of her husband and two sons.

And they were there, faces pinched with concern and grief, as they hoisted her up and carried her limp body away from graveside.

She lay in bed for nearly thirty days, taking in very little food or water. Calling for Jude and crying when her call was not answered and still, as she wallowed in grief and anguish, the sorrowful wail that was reserved for mothers who've lost their only daughters, remained locked in her throat.

Pearl eventually returned to her life. Now absent of Jude. People stopped talking about it and allowed the matter to slip into the space in their minds reserved for horrors like those. She attempted to do the same, putting her pain not behind her, but beside her, where her sweet Jude should have been, and prayed not for redemption, but for salvation.

No, the Lord would not answer her prayers on that day. Not as she had wished. She did not die. Not physically. Her soul and spirit had departed our world the moment she touched the cold, bruised brow of her child. But God would keep her walking and breathing for quite a few more years to come. He had work for her to do.

--From Sugar, Bernice McFadden. (c) December 1999, Bernice McFadden used by permission.

Reading Group Guide


When Sugar Lacey arrives in Bigelow, Arkansas, to the women of the town it seems as if "a storm blew in...A storm walked into their town on two legs in spiked, red patent leather heels." Afraid for their men and their morals, they want Sugar out of Bigelow. But Sugar, who has traveled too far and survived too much in her short life, has finally found a place in which she could put down roots.

To the surprise of the town, and most of all to Sugar herself, she develops a friendship with Pearl Taylor. Pearl, a respected member of the community, carries with her every day an overwhelming burden grief over her daughter Jude's murder fifteen years before. From its tenuous beginnings, Pearl and Sugar's friendship allows each woman to confront the very thing that most haunts her.

In language that is by turns lyrical and stark, and with a cadence that invokes the rhythm of the storytelling to which she grew up listening, Bernice L. McFadden brings vividly to life a 1950s Southern black town. Sugar, her first novel, is a powerful exploration of the sometimes unrelenting depths of grief and despair, the seeds of hope that can grow in even the bleakest of circumstances, and the role that love and friendship can play in helping us find redemption within ourselves.



Bernice L. McFadden was born, raised and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. She is the eldest of four children and the mother of one daughter, R'yane Azsa.

Ms. McFadden attended grade school at P.S. 161 in Brooklyn and Middle School at Holy Spirit, also in Brooklyn. She attended high school at St. Cyril Academy an all-girls boarding school in Danville, Pa.

In the Fall of 1983 she enrolled in the noted NYC fashion college: Laboratory Institute of Merchandising, with dreams of becoming an international clothing buyer.

She attended LIM for two semesters and then took a position at Bloomingdale's and later with Itokin, a Japanese owned retail company.

Disillusioned and frustrated with her job, she signed up for a Travel & Tourism course at Marymount College where she received a certificate of completion. After the birth of her daughter in 1988, Bernice McFadden obtained a job with Rockresorts a company then owned by the Rockefeller family.

The company was later sold and Ms. McFadden was laid off and unemployed for one year. She sights that year as the turning point in her life because during those twelve months Ms. McFadden began to dedicate herself to the art of writing. During the next nine years she held three jobs, always looking for something exciting and satisfying. Forever frustrated with corporate America and the requirements they put on their employees, Ms. McFadden enrolled at Fordham University. Her intention was to obtain a degree that would enable her to move up another rung on the corporate ladder.

She signed up for courses that concentrated on Afro-American history and literature, as well as creative writing, poetry and journalism. She credits the two years spent under the guidance of her professors as well as the years spent lost in the words of her favorite authors, to the caliber of writer she has become.

During those years, Ms. McFadden made a conscious effort to write as much as possible and began to send out hundreds of query letters to agents and publishers attempting to sell one of her short stories or the novel she was working on.

In 1997, Ms. McFadden quit her job and dedicated seven months to re-writing the novel that would become, Sugar In May of 1998, after depleting her savings, she took her last and final position within corporate America.

On Feb 9th, 1999, her daughter's eleventh birthday (and Alice Walker's birthday— one of Ms. McFadden's favorite authors) she sent a query letter to an agent who signed her two weeks later and the rest is literary history!

Bernice L. McFadden is the author of three novels—the national bestsellers, Sugar and The Warmest December (now available in trade paperback from Plume) and the just-released sequel to Sugar, entitled This Bitter Earth.

She is at work on her next novel.


Praise for Bernice L. McFadden's Sugar

"Unforgettable...a haunting story that keeps pages turning until the end."—Essence

"Vivid."—The New York Times Book Review

"Strong and folksy storytelling...think Zora Neale Hurston...Sugar speaks of what is real"— The Dallas Morning News

"One of the most compelling and thought-provoking novels I've read in years. Bernice McFadden is truly a welcomed voice in the literary world."— Terry McMillan, bestselling author of A Day Late and A Dollar Short



Tell us about your upbringing in the South. Are elements reflected in the story? Are any of the characters based on people you know?

While I wasn't raised in the South, my mother was. The stories she's shared with me over the years have been so vivid I guess that I've adopted the settings into my own stories. Yes, I think characteristics of people that are close to me have seeped into my characters.

How did your family's tradition of storytelling influence your writing?

A very big influence. The stories shared around the table during a holiday meal were the highlight of the gathering and I so looked forward to hearing them over and over again. I want my stories to have the same effect— stories that people will always want to return to time and time again.

The novel is primarily about Sugar and Pearl, with the male characters taking a back seat to the female characters. And yet the story closes with a scene that has Joe as the focus. Why did you choose not to end the story with either Sugar or Pearl actually in the scene?

Sugar's life was one big circle—every step forward put her closer to where she'd already been so it seemed only right that the story should end with a focus on Joe because he was the father to both Jude and Sugar, completing the circle.

As the mother of a daughter, was it difficult for you to write about Jude's murder? Why did you choose to maximize the horror of Jude's death by having the killer desecrate her body?

Fortunately it was not difficult to put that scene down on paper, although now when I go back to read it, it is a bit unnerving. The desecration was not a conscious choice, but exactly what I saw unfolding before me

Why did you choose to set the novel in the 1940s and 1950s instead of the present day?

My stories come to me as visions in bits and pieces—and I saw the 40's & 50's.

Sugar and Pearl's friendship forms the basis of the novel. How important are friendships in women's lives?

I take my relationships with women very seriously. I come from a family of women, so my respect for them is quite extraordinary. Friendships between women are sacred because we understand and feel for each other on levels that men are just not equipped to do.

In the beginning of the book there is a quote by Sarah Miles: "There's a little bit of hooker in every woman. A little bit of hooker and a little bit of God." Why did you choose to use this quote? How do you think it relates to the story?

That quote caught the whole essence of Sugar and Pearl. It speaks to the story and the good and not so good we all have inside of us.

This Bitter Earth, the sequel to Sugar, has recently been published. What can you tell us about it?

TBE is Sugar's continuing story, but it's also about a lot of the other characters that had to take a back seat in Sugar. TBE will delve further into Sugar's past as well as explain the effects her presence and consequent departure in Bigelow had on the Taylors as well as the town residents.

Are you working on a new novel?

Yes, I'm working on a story that will examine why some people love the way they do and while still others are unable to love at all.

What writers do you admire? Have any of them influenced your work?

I have great respect and admiration for Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, J. California Cooper, and Marita Golden. They have written stories that I return to time and time again for encouragement and guidance whenever I feel I've lost my way in my own stories.


  • Sugar opens with the murder of Jude Taylor. Why do you think the author chose to open with this graphic—and horrific—scene? How did this scene set the tone for the rest of the novel? Why is Jude's murder such an integral part of the storyline?
  • When Pearl first sees Sugar, she is "struck by the familiarity of her face"(pg. 37) because it reminds her of Jude. Pearl also called Sugar by Jude's name on several occasions. What draws Pearl to Sugar besides her physical resemblance to Jude?
  • By associating with Sugar, Pearl alienates Shirley and some of the other women in Bigelow. Why do these women feel so threatened by Sugar?
  • Sugar and Pearl's friendship is an unlikely pairing. What does each one gain from the relationship?
  • At one point in the story the author writes, "Knowing each other's past helped both Pearl and Sugar. Secret pains, now told, bonded the women together tighter than anything else in this world" (pg. 125). Why do Pearl and Sugar choose to confide in one other when neither has ever done so with anyone else?
  • In the beginning of the book, the author has included this quote by Sarah Miles: "There's a little bit of hooker in every woman. A little bit of hooker and a little bit of God." What do you think of this statement? How does it pertain to the story?
  • Sugar is set mainly in the small town of Bigelow, Arkansas. What "role" does the small town play in the story? Sugar was raised in a small town by the Lacey sisters and later lived in St. Louis, Detroit, and Chicago. Why does she choose to return to a small town?
  • Describe Pearl and Joe's relationship. What first drew them to one another? How would you describe their relationship when the story first begins? How does it change as the novel progresses? At the end of the story, the reader finds out that Joe is going to make a confession to Pearl. How do you think she would have reacted to the news?
  • "Pearl looked around her. She tried to imagine herself without Sugar. She didn't know who that might be, the person that existed before Sugar's arrival was buried deep into the hard, dry memory of Bigelow next to the rotting bones of her baby girl. How could she be anything more with the loss of two in her life now?" (pg. 218). Why does Pearl feel so bereft by Sugar's departure? Do you think she sensed that Sugar was more than just a neighbor and friend to her and Joe?
  • One reviewer stated that "Sugar speaks of what is real." What aspects of the novel do you think the reviewer is referring to?

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Sugar 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 112 reviews.
Doonie_820 More than 1 year ago
I read this book a few years ago and it has been passed on from family member to family member and they absolutely loved it! I am adding it to my nook library and look forward to reading it again. This book is wonderfully written and sometimes I feel just like I am sitting on the porch with Sugar and Pearl enjoying some "pike aid". It is remarkable how each of their journey's through pain lead them to each other and allow them to love and protect each other as mother and daughter's often time do.
DeenyDV More than 1 year ago
This story of two most unlikely women becoming friends and battling the troubles in their lives, is such a rewarding experience for the reader. With each page you become engaged in such a deep story of love and pain for Sugar and her friend Pearl, and their need to hang on, keeping hope in their hearts.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. It was very slow and at times confusing. There were flash backs and you were not always sure if you were in the past or the present. That being said the story was entertaining. It was emotional. I wanted to cry at times and I also wanted to curse the characters. The author made the characters come to life. I just hate that it took almost til the end of the book for many things to.come together and to be revealed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A powerful read...couldn't put it down once I started. A deep story about the unlikely becoming likely...I love how this author allows you to become the characters in the story and see through their eyes. Kudos to the author because I love a book I can almost feel like I'm there. All the characters are unique...I thought the story would only be about Sugar but then the other characters help tell her story. The ending had me gasping like there has to be more. You will not be disappointed
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book . Excellent read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is about love and acceptance. Two unlikely people become friends despite what others say about them. Good read!
jewelknits More than 1 year ago
The publisher's blurb does not do this book any justice. This is truly a must-read book for anyone: male/female, black/white, anyone who's a grownup and loves to read. The book opens powerfully: to a tragic scene of loss. The very first line; Jude was dead A mother (Pearl) loses her only daughter in a horrible fashion - before the girl has had a chance to taste what it's like to be a woman. The loss sets her reeling and takes away her laugh. Even her loving and faithful husband and adoring sons can't bring the smile back into her eyes. 15 years later, in 1955, a young woman (Sugar) who has had a life almost devoid of any real human connections moves in next door in small-town Bigelow, Arkansas. Her mother dropped her off almost at birth with a family of women who ran a house of prostitution, and the only life she's known has involved selling her body to get by. She's never owned or had anything of her own, even a family. Inheriting her own house (from someone she's never known, met, or even heard of) changes this and she decides to take full advantage of this opportunity. She pays the bills the only way she knows how, which sets tongues to wagging and even some tempers to flaring. Pearl has been asked by her minister to take Sugar under her wing when she arrives. It takes a few visits and a few shattered sweet potato pies for these two to finally become friends. Pearl's life, even with her loss, has been rather sheltered, revolving around her family, her small circle of friends, and her church. It takes quite a while for her to figure out what her neighbor is doing to earn her living. Despite this, she perseveres in her friendship with Sugar, who has an almost uncanny resemblance to her lost daughter Jude. Pearl, who is the soul of propriety and has never even gone to a juke joint (that is, until she met Sugar), is vilified by her "friends" almost as much as Sugar is. And yet ... there is just something about this young girl who could be her own that draws her in. The tale of Sugar's life and of this friendship are the core of this book. The tale of how many of the characters are connected comes out piece by tantalizing piece. You, the reader, will know more about these connections than many of the characters themselves by the end of this journey. This is the type of book that stays with you. You will continue to think about it long after you've turned the last page. It is not a pleasant book. If you are a parent, you may not be able to get through the first few pages without crying, or, at the least, feeling your heart rip in pain for the tragedy that is described. You will want to step inside of it's pages and punch some of the characters dead in their faces. Some of the scenes will punch YOU in the face. It will not end the way you want it to, but, considering the story itself, the ending is appropriate. You will not believe that this is the author's debut novel, as it is so well and powerfully written. Many reviewers have stated that there is no redemption in this book. I respectfully disagree. There IS a sort of redemption in having a taste of happiness when you haven't known any before. When a life is this difficult, even having a day of love and laughter and knowing what it is is better than never having a chance to know it at all. Being able to open yourself up to love someone new and to laugh again after a horrible loss is redemptive as well. Sensitive Reader: This book is not for you: violence, language, an
Anonymous 12 months ago
A good book. A lot of emotion and life in this one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In my option, the book started a little slow. But once it picked up... OMG!
EllenH on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wow, a real page turner. This is the second book I've read by Bernice Mcfadden, and her first book. I was as impressed with this as I was by her other one. Now I find out there is a book 2 of Sugar. I too have ordered it from the library.
pinkcrayon99 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The book opens with the brutal death of a sweet innocent child, Jude. A death that rocks this small town and nearly kills, Pearl, Jude's mother. Then the book moves forward fifteen years with the arrival of, Sugar, a prostitute. Sugar and Pearl bring a certain balance to each others life. They have an effect on each other that is quite unexplainable but it does help that Sugar looks a lot like Jude. The town is not as welcoming of Sugar as Pearl is. There are several rifts and confrontations that can be expected in a small town.This book kept you wanting more but writing was quite simple and sometimes it felt like the author was trying too hard. I really enjoyed all the characters. I felt like I was apart of the Bigelow community. Pearl's character was so warm and inviting as well as her husband Joe. Sugar was so complex and the author really made you feel all her emotions and inner demons. Sugar is introduced to love but it doesn't last long because she can't tear away from her past. I finished the book feeling like there were a lot of loose ends that needed to be tied up. As you will find out, things are not always as solid as they seem.
kjdavis87 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was one of the best books I've ever read. I love this author. She never disappoints.
quzy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I didn't know what to expect from Sugar as I read the opening scene of a horrendous murder of a young black girl named Jude and the devastated mother she left behind named Pearl. The year was 1940, the place was a southern black town, and it was the era of segregation..."No one cared except the people who carried the same skin color"Bernice McFadden made me feel the anguish of a mother who lost her child; the injustice of the times as it was known nothing was going to be done about it... And then she whisked me ahead 15 years. Pearl is still mourning the loss of her daughter, Jude, in her quiet reserved manner... But there's a new girl in town, and her name is Sugar - a young prostitute looking to change her life. Sugar exudes sex, with her short short skirts, spiky high heels, and BIG attitude. Pearl is a quiet obedient church-going wife. Their unlikely friendship creates amazing changes in both of them... much to the dismay of Pearl's church going friends, but to the delight of Pearls family.Bernice is a master storyteller. Her prose is beautiful. As the layers of this story unfold, of murder, secrets, jealousy and pride, Bernice seamlessly weaves it all together to an amazing ending. I felt a whirlwind of emotions as I read Sugar; I laughed, I cried and I felt anger. I saw past those short skirts Sugar wore and found a little girl struggling to catch her breathe. And I walked through a small town scared to open its arms to someone who obviously wasn't 'one of them'... or was she? I kept turning those pages... Graphic in nature at times, but not gratuitous, you will appreciate Sugar's sincerity. You'll appreciate the rich, complex and strong female characters fully fleshed out and who don't shy away from sharing their feelings. Bernice has also captured the feel of small town life, with the soft whispers heard between small clutches of people. The story will grab your attention, and your heart, and will not let you go until the very last page.Sugar is friendship... it's honesty wrapped up in the poetry of words... it's redemption and it's powerful...
BookshelfMonstrosity on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I first heard of Sugar when I read Mel's review over at Gerbera Daisy Diaries. I knew this was a book I wanted to read, and soon. Coincidentally, Ms. McFadden emailed me about 2 weeks later asking if she could send me a copy of her book. I responded with an emphatic 'yes'! Most books don't usually make me cry or elicit an extremely strong response within me, but this one most definitely did both.The mood of the book is set immediately as it opens with the horrific murder of Jude Taylor. This murder becomes an integral part of the storyline concerning Sugar and Jude's mother, Pearl Taylor. Sugar and Pearl are probably a most unlikely pair of friends- Sugar is a rough and tumble, brash and in-your-face young woman who sells her body, where Pearl is a complacent, obedient, docile housewife who has been quietly nursing her grief over her daughter's death for well over a decade."Knowing each other's past helped both Pearl and Sugar. Secret pains, now told, bonded the women together tighter than anything else in this world."Despite their differences, Pearl and Sugar develop a familial bond in which they confide in one another, much to the chagrin of Pearl's fellow church friends.Inevitably, small-town gossip ensues.Sugar is a gritty story, full of crime, murder, sex, and secrets. Despite its sometimes graphic content, do not be put off. There is a dignity and grace in the writing that to me is reminiscent of Morrison and Hurston. McFadden has captured the feel of the 1950s Deep South and the people that inhabited it.
nbmars on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Bernice McFadden reports in an interview that she had 73 rejection notices for this book, and that when it was finally published in 2000, it was pigeonholed as a ¿black" book and marketed strictly to African American readers. Other reviews may point out there are some mysteries associated with this shattering and touching story, but to me, the publishing and marketing decisions are the biggest ones.In 1955, Sugar Lacey moved to Bigelow, Arkansas after an unhappy childhood with no parents and no prospects aside from prostitution. This is a woman who has spent her life in emotional isolation and in pain, and it shows in the insolence and defiance with which she now confronts the world that scorns her. My heart went out to the girl inside the woman who wanted so badly to love and be loved that when it came her way, she feared it, and only wanted to run.The women in the town reject Sugar without even knowing her; they resent and fear the effects her tight clothes and her flowing wigs will have on their men, and they allow this fear to overwhelm any Christian tendencies they claim to have. But Pearl Taylor, who lives next door, is drawn to her new neighbor; Sugar reminds Pearl of her daughter Jude, who was brutally murdered fifteen years before. A relationship between the two women that begins reluctantly but grows into something mutually affirming and supportive changes both of their lives. Pearl seeks to bring something of Christian redemption to Sugar, and Sugar strives to bring some of the joyfulness back to Pearl that was lost when Jude was killed. But Sugar¿s past keeps chasing after her, because victimizers never forget an easy mark. Pearl, as a force of good, has to do battle with one of Sugar¿s old johns, a personification of evil, for Sugar¿s body and soul. Discussion: In Sugar, there are elements of other authors and books that come to mind: a little of the poetic obscurity ¿ especially in the beginning - of Toni Morrison; the improbable friendship of Celie and Shug from The Color Purple; the petty and carping women's card club from The Help that could be a photographic reverse negative of the group that gets together in Sugar. Most poignantly, the character of Sugar is reminiscent of the character of Bess from DuBose Heyward's novel Porgy. In Sugar, all of these influences or similarities are blended into a unique medley to create a different and lovely song, albeit one played out in the sorrowful and contemplative notes of the blues, with some enraptured riffs of jazz from time to time.The omniscient narrative voice allows the reader to become aware of the complicated secrets of the characters¿ pasts, and the hidden interrelationships of the characters in the present. The protagonists are not so privileged. But to me, this is the best of both worlds: the lives of the characters remain messy and real, while the reader is satisfied with knowing what actually happened.Evaluation: There is so much I recognized in this book: grief, fear of love, cruelty, dignity, pettiness, compassion, and all kinds of strength in women who didn¿t even know they had it. McFadden is a truly talented author. It¿s a shame it is only now, on the ten year anniversary of her initial publication, that she is getting some recognition.
lauranav on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My second book by Bernice McFadden. She has a wonderful ability to describe people and places and experiences. This is a sad story of a life with few choices. Sugar arrives in town and it brings to light the worst of most of the people in the town. It hurts to know how much it would change if they stopped judging for awhile and learned some of the truth. Pearl seeks Sugar's friendship and gives her friendship in return, and they both benefit from the relationship that develops. But it is hard to leave the past.Highly recommended. Not an easy read, but a good read and worth it.
knittingmomof3 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
From my blog...Sugar by Bernice L. McFadden is a shining example of how literary fiction should be written; with warmth, depth, vivid imagery, and beautiful prose. Sugar is a novel about two women; one born in brothels and looking for a new life, the other an ideal wife and upstanding community member grieving the loss of her son. When Sugar moves in next door to Pearl their lives are destined to become intertwined and McFadden weaves their lives together so delicately and lovingly, it is indeed work of beauty. Throughout the novel, the reader is drawn into the extraordinary lives of Sugar and Pearl; two women who could not be more different yet through their compassion, wisdom, and humor help to change each other's lives. While the small town of Bigelow does not approve of this new friendship, McFadden does a superb job writing about all the chin waging that occurs in the very much segregated south of 1955. Pearl and Sugar are each delightfully vibrant characters and one cannot help but become attached to these two women. McFadden's vivid imagery as well as her ability to make the characters and surrounds real keeps the reader thoroughly engaged in this novel. Sugar is an astonishingly beautiful novel, at times heart-breaking, yet shows the reader the healing side of forgiveness. Sugar will touch the heart of the reader and stay with the reader long after the cover has been closed on this incredible work. Sugar is a remarkable tale of love, loss, friendship and forgiveness. I am thankful this beautiful work was brought to my attention and truly am grateful for the chance to introduce Sugar to my readers.
zibilee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sugar Lacey has just moved to Bigelow, Arkansas in an effort start anew. Though she longs for a normal life, Sugar is far from normal. A prostitute since her adolescence, she is a hard woman accustomed to consorting with even harder men, and finds that she is always on the outskirts of life looking in. When Sugar's new next door neighbor Pearl Taylor comes by for a visit intending to make a new friend, the two women's lives become inexplicably entwined forever. Pearl is a modest and unassuming housewife and the tragedy of her young daughter's murder more than 15 years before comes swimming back into her life with her first glimpse at Sugar's face. Though the two women have a rocky start, soon their friendship is cautiously growing, much to the chagrin and anger of their neighbors and townsfolk. Sugar begins to find herself nestled in the family she once dreamed of having and Pearl finds herself learning to be more adventurous in her life, sharing her time and love with a woman who she soon considers kin. When an unexpected relationship begins to blossom in Sugar's life, she yearns to leave her past behind and move on towards a more respectable and safe life, not realizing that her past has clung to her too tightly to ever be shaken off. In this poignant and earnest story, two women searching for redemption and healing end up finding the solace they need in one another. But will it be enough to right the wrongs of their pasts?A few months ago, I had the great pleasure of reading my first book by Bernice McFadden. It was a novel called Glorious and it was an excellent read for me. When getting ready to review this book, I had wondered if the two books would be similar at all and if I would enjoy this second book as much as I did the first. What I found in this book was an enthralling story that weaves its way among two unforgettable characters and a story that rivaled Glorious in its messages and complexity.When the story opens up, the reader is privy to the terrible circumstances surrounding the murder of Pearl's daughter, Jude. Though the incident is dealt with in an oblique fashion, it sets the mood for the electric and volatile story to come. Jumping forward to the immersion into Sugar's life and circumstances, we meet a woman trapped within behaviors that are slowly wrecking her. Sugar is not a wishy-washy character who fumbles her way through her predicaments; Rather, she is strong and outspoken, turning her back on the society that surrounds her before they get the chance to turn their backs on her. She never feels the need to mix with the people around her, knowing that she is fundamentally different than they are, a woman damaged beyond repair by her choice of life.When Pearl and Sugar do finally meet face-to-face, there is not a lot of feel-good friendship between them. Though Pearl is struggling mightily to be a good neighbor and possibly a friend, Sugar rebuffs her instantly and won't let her get a toehold into her heart. That the two women will become great companions is uncertain, but as a reader, I could see that they both desperately needed one another. As the book progresses, the two become many things to each other and there is a sense of cohesion between their relationship and the relationships of the women who starred in Glorious. The two became not only friends but mentors to each other in a way, in addition to sharing a mother/daughter like bond. I think McFadden does a great job exploring these issues and friendships between women. They become all and everything to each other, each fitting into the roles that have been missing from the other's life. I thought the relationship between Pearl and Sugar was very complex and multifaceted. Each woman seemed to be unaware of her importance to the other. They were willing to put everything on the line for each other, to change the shapes of their hearts to fit one another's needs.As the story winds forward, Pearl and Sugar begin to explore different aspects of lif
ladybug74 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Loved this book! Read the whole thing in one day, though I will admit that it wasn't very long. Though Sugar was a prostitute, I found myself rooting for her and hoping that things would turn out better for her. The ending of the book was one that left me just sitting here thinking of the possibilities about what could have happened next. I will definitely be looking into possibly reading more books by this author.
booksandwine on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When Sugar Lacey comes to the small town of Bigelow in Arkansas, life is shaken up. Women eye her with disdain, men eye her with lust. This is the basis of the novel Sugar by Bernice L. McFadden. Sugar begins with a bang, immediately we are drawn in with a murder of a little girl. Emotion is ripe and we see how the murder takes a toll on Pearl Taylor, the mother of the victim. The book then flashes forward fifteen years, when the lives of Sugar Lacey and Pearl Taylor will intertwine over sweet potato pie.Sugar weaves friendship, sexuality, and small-town minds effortlessly. The friendship between Pearl and Sugar is unlikely, but I felt it worked well within the novel. Pearl is an awesome woman. She defies her friends, which reminded me of hens, to form a friendship with Sugar, regardless of her disapproval of Sugar's profession. The relationship between Sugar and Pearl is definitely not all give and take. Rather, both women give something of themselves. Pearl treats Sugar like a family member, giving her warmth that she's never really experienced.I loved that Sugar didn't dance around sexuality. The men of the book, unfortunately, cheat on their wives with Sugar, as she IS a lady of the night after all and the guys do pay her to get laid.The women of town treat sex as though it is a dirty act. They are inhibited, unlike Sugar. Pearl, too, until she sort of has this sexual awakening, in which she's all girllll I am hot stuff, and really takes control of the bedroom. I loved it. I loved that Pearl had an open mind and didn't take part in the slut-shaming with her friends.Sugar Lacey, on the other hand, I was conflicted towards. I wanted her to be happy, however, it's hard for me to approve of her lifestyle. I think tempting men to cheat is reprehensible. However, not all of the blame lies on her shoulders, as the men are the ones paying to do the dirty, therefore, I think they deserve more blame than Sugar. It's an interesting thought this novel brings out, how it seems the other woman is always the one faulted for breaking up a relationship and not the man. Clearly, there is some sort of double standard at work.I enjoyed Sugar and it definitely gave me food for thought, especially in relation to sexuality within the constructs of a small southern town.
altima313 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is written in rich detail, realistic characterization and superb writing. This writer's ability to capture the look and feel of the 50s Jim Crow south and the people who inhabit this small town are amazing and there is no doubt this is a literary masterpiece. Bernice McFadden has a wonderful writing style where she paces out the story line and everything is just perfect. The story of Sugar is beautiful, tragic, happy, hopeful and sad all at the same time. Well-developed characters and wonderful writing and dialogue. The author is excellent!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is a must read
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This story is well written. I couldn't put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Captivating and we'll written. But I hate that I have to draw my own conclusion about Sugar. I understand that life doesn't end in a fairytale but I would have liked the author to end Sugar's story. I have a creative mind, I can end the story however I like.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm not even finished with the book and I felt I needed to write a review on how great it is. Everything unfolds perfectly so far. The connections made btw each character is amazing! I look forward to writing another review when I'm done. Highly recommended!!!