Title: Copper Sun
Author: Sharon Draper
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2006, 302 pages
Amari has a perfect life in her African village. Then the traders come...and these traders are after humans, not goods. Her family is murdered, the village burned, and Amari is marched off to the coast in chains, to be shipped across the ocean to a new land. In America, she is sold to a plantation owner who gives her to his son as a 16th birthday present (hint: he's not looking for a mother figure). Life is a grim thing, until a really horrific event gives her the chance to escape, hand in hand with a white indentured servant her own age and with nearly as much need to run.
This book was hard to read. Not because the words are big, but because the truth it speaks is horrific. There is no escape from the realities of being a young female slave: not just whippings, but rape. The challenge for Amari is to keep her spirit alive in the midst of cruelty beyond her imagining, and quite frankly beyond mine. Like 12 Years a Slave, this book leaves the reader unable to deny the inhumanity of slavery (and the indenture system was a form of slavery, make no mistake. That the plantation owner "owns" Polly's indenture, and can sell it where he will--even to a whorehouse--makes that very clear).
Polly is an orphan, indentured for 14 years to pay her parents' debts. That her position is tantamount to slavery is made clear by the fact that her new master (and Amari's) assigns her to work alongside Amari, to share her hut, and teach the African girl English and how to work. The story is told in alternating chapters or sections told from the perspective of each girl, and we see how suspicion and prejudice gradually break down to allow them to become allies and, in the end, friends.
Incredibly vivid and well written, this book is one of those that I could not recommend for anyone under the age of about 15, due to the disturbing nature of the story. But it's one that probably everyone over that age should read, because it reminds us of both man's inhumanity to man and the strength and resilience of the human spirit. And part of the lesson is that not everyone can be so resilient. Characters die, physically and spiritually, which makes the victory of Amari and Polly over their circumstances all the more powerful.
Oddly, this wasn't a tear-jerker. I didn't cry over the sad parts. It was, instead, a thought-producer, and I couldn't put it down (plus I would happily have meted out some justice to some people who couldn't begin to understand the concept).
For those about 15 and up who can deal with the realities of our history.
Full Disclosure: I checked Copper Sun out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."