I don't read a lot of YA books, but one of my goals for 2021 was to read outside my comfort zone and to read more diversely, specifically more international authors. SUGAR TOWN QUEENS by Malla Nunn fit these parameters in so many ways. As a Black American who grew up in the 60s and 70s in an Appalachian state where Black Americans comprised less than 3% of the total state population, I'm used to bigotry and racism. The prejudices put forth in this book are quite different from anything I've ever experienced, yet I enjoyed the story and couldn't put it down.
Ms. Nunn has crafted a story with realistic scenarios and characters that were easy to relate to from the beginning. SUGAR TOWN QUEENS deals with so many issues: bigotry, racism, classism, colorism, mental health issues, and more. Yes, that's a lot for any book to handle, but the life that Amandla and Annalisa Harden experience is one that can be seen in rural Appalachia, namely the poverty and hope for something better. Amandla is a strong teenager primarily because she has had to be in order to help her mother survive in a township. Amandla's exposure to her mother's family is initially hopeful even though the circumstances surrounding her introduction to the family are less than ideal. Amandla has surrounded herself with her township support system or "family" yet yearns to know more about her biological family. Life can be difficult and unfair when hope for a better tomorrow is suppressed, but all of the characters in this story seem to rise above their circumstances and make do to the best of their abilities, while offering a helping hand to those around them. Yes, there is tragedy in this story, but there is also laughter, love, friendship, and more. I enjoyed this story so much, I may be passing the book on to my 86-y.o. mother to read...as long as she returns the book so I can reread it in the future.