Aug 27, 2009

Copper Sun by Sharon M. Draper

Copper Sun by Sharon M. Draper

Amari is nearly fifteen when a group of white men visits her village. A traditional welcome ceremony is organized for them, but halfway through it the shooting begins. In a short amount of time, nearly everyone Amari has ever loved is taken away from her, and her life changes forever. She and the remaining survivors are marched to the shore, where a slave ship awaits then. Copper Sun follows Amari on her journey from her African village to the colony of Carolina. There, as many before her and after her, she’s sold as a slave.

The story is told not only from Amari’s point of view, but also from Polly’s – Polly is a white girl of about the same age as Amari, who, after her parents’ deaths, is forced to become an indentured servant to pay their debts. The different point of views work very well, and one of my favourite things about Copper Sun was watching Polly and Amari overcome the suspicion with which they regarded each other and become true friends. They learn to see each other as people, not simply as members of a different race.

Another one of the book’s strengths is that it shows how people who are powerless in different ways and for different reasons can work together, can show one another support and kindness. Amari is doubly powerless because she is a young woman and a slave – she’s bought as a birthday present for Clay Derby, the plantation master’s son. Clay makes sure to call her to his room most nights, as had the sailors on the slave ship before him. Polly is a white girl who, while temporarily enslaved, has freedom to look forward to. Still, her situation as an indentured servant is also not a pleasant one. And even Mrs Derby, despite her social position, is powerless because of her gender.

Of course that of all these characters, Amari is the most vulnerable and the one who’s treated with the most disrespect, but the point here is not to measure different kinds of suffering against each other, but to see how people who are subjugated can try to join efforts to make things better for everyone – a point that is definitely still relevant today.

Sharon Draper doesn’t try to sugarcoat history, and Copper Sun was at times very difficult to read. There was a scene in particularly after which I had to put the book aside for a while and try to calm myself down. But as comforting as it would be to think she was exaggerating for dramatic effect, I know that this is not the case. Copper Sun reminded me of two non-fiction books I read last year, Black Ivory by James Walvin and To Be Slave by Julius Lester. My edition of Copper Sun includes an interview with Sharon Draper in which she says that in her research she came across much worse things than those she describes in this book – and even judging by those two books alone, yes, she most definitely did.

Amari and Polly’s story is far from being completely bleak, though. There’s what could optimistically be called a happy ending, though not an unrealistic one; there’s kindness and survival as well as cruelty and death. This is a book that matters, and it matters especially because it’s aimed at young people. It matters not only because it makes history come to life – because it brilliantly concretizes the brutal but abstract reality of slavery into the story of a smart, brave, resourceful girl – but also because all over the world people continue to treat fellow human beings as things. Sometimes we have to stop and take a good look at what the consequences of that may be, and fiction achieves that better than anything else.

Memorable Passages:
Amari gradually grew accustomed to the dim light and looked around the room. She spotted a woman in a corner who was rocking a child who was not there. She sang to it and caressed it gently, but her arms were empty. The woman’s sorrow was raw and palpable, like spoiled meat.

Isabelle Derby sat pale and quiet, her eyes cast down through most of the meal. It was as if she were one of the many room decorations. Unhappiness seemed to ooze from her like perspiration on a humid day. Polly shook her head as she realized that being a fine lady didn’t necessarily mean finding joy.
Reviewed at:
the hidden side of a leaf
Book Lover’s Blog
One Librarian's Book Reviews
Good Books & Good Wine

Interview with Sharon Draper at The Brown Bookshelf

(Let me know if I missed yours.)

27 comments:

  1. While i know this is terrible of me, I really have a hard time reading books about slavery. Just like I have a hard time reading books about the Holocaust. It's not that those things aren't good to read, it's just that they make me so unhappy. What happened was so horrible, it's hard for me to hear about it. I'll be reading Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson soon for a book club, which is about slavery, and that's going to be very hard. I'm not sure I could handle this one. :(

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  2. I really don't think that's terrible, Amanda. We all have our no-go areas. As long as you're informed about those subjects, which I know you are, I see nothing wrong with avoiding books that will make you miserable.

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  3. this reminds me a little of Pirates! by Celia Rees, only Pirates is YA, but it still deals with slavery and the relationship between a white girl who is being sold out by her family and a black slave girl.

    I can understand what Amanda is saying,I feel bad about reading about witch trials now as I have been told it still goes on in India. I was one of my favourite periods to read about, but now I feel bad. It is hard reading about subjects that make you feel bad.

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  4. It was amazing - it opened my eyes. But, I can only read so many books like this in a row, then I have to take a good long "happy" break. My review is here atOne Librarian's Book Reviews.

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  5. Oh my, that sounds like a very powerful story. Sometimes it just amazes me to know how one human can treat another.

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  6. This sounds like a wonderful book. On it goes to my list!

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  7. After hearing teachers and students talking about Sharon Draper for years, I'm starting to realize I'm definitely missing out on something! :)

    Your review was great -- and the premise reminds me of Middle Passage by Charles Johnson, except told from the perspective of a young woman. That's definitely unique. I read Middle Passage in college and have never forgotten it... thanks for introducing me to this one! :)

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  8. Sounds like a fascinating read, and another one for my wish list! You have a really eclectic and wonderful taste in books. I always look forward to stopping here to see what new gem you have uncovered. Great review on this one as well.

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  9. This sounds really interesting! I am adding it to my list! Thanks for the lovely review!

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  10. This sounds like the sort of book that would leave me a quivering wreck. I'm always torn on those kinds of books; I want to read them because I know they're important, but they're so painful that I tend to take my time about getting to them. I think I'll try to speed things up with this one, though. It sounds remarkable.

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  11. Another one added to the 'keep an eye out for' list. It sounds brillaint.

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  12. Sorry, a bit off topic, have you been able to access Dewey's website? Because I haven't for a long time. How did you get the links to her reviews? Did you just get them from rss feed?

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  13. Draper is an excellent author. I haven't read this one but I would like to. Lester is another favorite author of mine. Have you read Day of Tears by Lester? Excellent book about the largest slave auction in the US.

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  14. Wonderful review. I haven't heard of Sharon Draper, but as she's YA, that is not surprising. This book sounds rather similar to Toni Morrison's a mercy. Have you read that one?

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  15. I have been trying to read more historical fiction and will have to look at this one closer. Great review!

    By the way, stop on by and check out your reward!
    http://booktumbling.wordpress.com/2009/08/26/my-first-award/

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  16. It's not a happy topic obviously, but it is one I'd like to read more about. Hadn't heard of this one, so thanks!

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  17. Wow, what a great review! I like to read books based on slavery. No matter how many books I read, I still don't get how people let it happen. It's on my TBR.

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  18. I'd like to read this one day. Thanks for the review!

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  19. Vivienne: This one is actually YA too! I've heard excellent things about Pirates. And as I was telling Amanda, I completely understand. We all have our own limits as readers.

    Melissa, I added your review - thanks for the link! I think I need a happy break myself.

    Bermudaonion: I know :/

    rhapsodyinbooks: It is wonderful. Painful but wonderful.

    Meg: I can't remember hearing of her other books, but I'll definitely seek them out now. Middle Passage sounds excellent too. Thanks for the recommendation!

    Zibilee: Thank you so much! I guess my taste is all over the place :P I'm happy to hear nobody minds that I can't stick to a single niche!

    Rebecca, you're most welcome!

    Memory: There was one part in particular that left me quite a wreck, yes. And I understand your mixed feelings about books like this. The second half of this one is actually not as dark as the first, though, and we get the satisfaction of seeing the characters succeed.

    Cath, I hope you enjoy it if you pick it up. Well, enjoy it might not be the word, but you know what I mean :P

    Mee: It was through google reader, yes. I've been including the links anyway because her blog has worked a few times after long spells of not working. I think the problem is that she hosted it in her home server, so the computer needed to be on 24/7 for it to work. And if her family is not at home for whatever reason then the server won't be working. I'm hoping it will come back again, but I completely understand if they decided to take it down for good, of course.

    Staci: You read my mind! I haven't reviewed it yet, but I finished Day of Tears just the other day. Another wonderful read.

    ds: Not yet, but I plan to - it's Tori Morrisson, after all!

    booktumbling: Aww, thank you so much :D

    Lenore: You're welcome! It's an excellent book.

    Teddy Rose: It's baffling, isn't it? And sadly the same can be said of a lot of things happening all over the world today :(

    Alice, I hope you find it as rewarding as I did!

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  20. This sounds absolutely fantastic. I honestly can't remember if I've read any book about the slave trade aside from textbook stuff. Wonderful review Nymeth and I'm going to have to add this one to my list. It sounds like a book that shouldn't be missed!

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  21. This sounds really intriguing. I loved your thoughtful, beautifully written review.

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  22. Sounds like a wonderful, powerful, must-read book. It also sounds like it will rip my heart right from my chest, but I will ultimately feel grateful that I had the chance to read it. Thank you for this beautiful review, Ana. I must not have read Dewey's review, or it would probably already be on my wish list (which of course, is right where it's going now).

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  23. Iliana: You know, I actually can't either. I've read some that dealt with different aspects of slavery, like Beloved, but not with the process of being stolen away from home to become a slave.

    Laughing Stars, thank you so much!

    Debi, you know what's funny? I had forgotten that Dewey had reviewed it, but when I got to a part of the book what she had said about it immediately came to my mind. As usual, she was absolutely right. And yes, it will rip your heart from your chest, I'm afraid :(

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  24. I do hope you were nominated for Best Review for BBAW. You write some of the most compelling reviews I've read. Between you and Eva, it's a wonder I even try to write one. :-)

    Draper is an established, go-to writers among AA readers. Writers like Dana Davidson has credited Ms. Draper for inspiring her and giving her advice when she published her first work.

    For those who'd rather read something lighter, I recommend Davidson.

    Thanks for another fantastic review.

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  25. Susan, you are too kind. Thank you so much! I'm not familiar with Dana Davidson, but to the list she goes.

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  26. Just commenting because I've just reviewed this book and your review was the only one I could find in my google reader.

    Was the part you had to set the book down, the one scene involving Noah and Mrs. Derby?

    This was such a heart-wrenching read, but well worth the time it took to read it. I really liked the friendship between Amari and Polly as well.

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  27. The book Copper Sun was a very powerful and emotional book for me. I recommend for people that really love very descriptive books about slavery. I liked that the book was detailed because I am the type of person to reaad about the slavery of African Americans.

    This book was very enjoyable. Sharon Draper has wrote many outstanding books.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.