Sunday, September 28, 2008

Copper Sun by Sharon M. Draper

"I got a bad feelin' 'bout this. We all gonna hang 'fore nightfall! Lawd, Lawd, Lawd. What we gonna do? We done fell out the trouble tree and hit every branch on the way down!"

Set in the 1730s, Copper Sun is a historical young adult fiction novel that follows our main character, Amari, from Africa to the Carolina Colony where she becomes the birthday present for a cruel slave master's even crueler sixteen-year-old son Clay. After seeing her family slaughtered and her village plundered, Amari struggles to keep her spirit alive while surviving the horrors of the slave ship, trying to maintain her dignity while being raped on a daily basis, and pushing on through countless other nightmarish atrocities. Once she gets to the plantation a quarter into the novel, she shares the narrative with Polly, an indentured servant that shares her quarters and her duties in the kitchen under Teenie, the plantation cook. Throughout the rest of the book, we see how the two girls struggle to assimilate to the culture around them and to maintain their identities as much as possible without getting themselves killed. During this time, Clay takes a special liking to Amari that goes beyond the physical relationship that he forces on her, sending her gifts and verbally professing affection. He treats her more the way that a free woman would be treated than like a slave would be treated--but given the time period women were not exactly seen as equals either, obviously. After a subplot dealing with the mistress of the house throws a killer plot twist into the novel at the climax, Polly, Amari, and Teenie's son are sent away from the plantation and they decide to make their escape. The last quarter of the novel deals with running and whether or not they make it to Fort Mose, Florida where there are supposidely streets of gold and people of every color living together as though slavery did not exist.

I appreciated this novel quite a bit. I remember reading novels like Heart of Darkness and Things Fall Apart in school when I was maybe a bit too young to wrap my head around them as well as would be necessary to take in everything those books were intended to convey. While I sometimes groaned about having too much history in my English classrooms, I could understand that it was important that it be there. Reading about slavery in a history textbook is one thing. You know names and dates and basic information. Reading historical fiction about slavery and what the Europeans did when they went into Africa to take slaves from their homeland really drives in how truely terrible those things were. I feel like Copper Sun could serve the same kind of purpose that those aforementioned books usually serve in a classroom and be more accessible to students. Beyond that, the main characters are both fifteen when the story begins putting them at the same age a sophomore in high school would be... making it a lot easier for students to potentially become more invested in and interested in the characters. I'm not saying that the classics aren't important, I just think that they should be introduced when it's appropriate.

Sharon Draper did an incredible job on the research that she put into writing Copper Sun. She traveled to Africa and went to the "slave castles" and crawled through the Door Of No Return as the slaves did. She saw the place on the beach where they were branded before being put on the ship to America. Then she spent ten years doing research. In the back of the book and on her website she has extensive lists of links for slave narratives and things of that nature as well as suggested texts. I could tell that she was trying in her writing to give dignity and respect to those people who had those things stripped from them and that is why I think so highly of this book as both an artistic endeavor and a scholastic undertaking on her part.

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