Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First of all, the writing and pacing is really good. But the drama dragged. The actual sugar cane business overshadowed the interesting family situations occurring between characters. And because it went into detail about the business, there were all these miscellaneous characters the reader doesn’t care about. I read it because Oprah is doing a show on it, but I have a feeling OWN changed a lot for the book to be remotely entertaining on TV.

Charley Bordelon is a single mother raising her 11-year-old daughter Micah in Los Angeles, where she can’t keep a job as an artist though she enjoys the fruits of her ophthalmologist mother’s labor. When Charley’s father dies, he leaves her a sugarcane field in Louisiana, where he’s originally from. So Charley packs her things up and moves to Louisiana with Micah. They live with Charley’s grandmother Miss Honey while Charley deals with her troubled half-brother Ralph Angel, who has a son named Blue.

While Charley tries to figure out how to run a sugarcane farm, her bullheadedness leaves her making some business mistakes as Ralph Angel grows jealous that the business wasn’t left to him. As Charley gets on track with the help from Remy Newell, a competitor, she finds herself falling him though she doesn’t realize how much she’s neglecting Micah. Ralph Angel’s actions eventually lead to a timely Black Lives Matter ending, which brings the family closer.

The OWN TV series is better but totally changed characters and situations. The show added a sister, Nova Bordelon, to add even more tension between Charley and Ralph Angel. Violet is a preacher’s wife who only shows up a few times in the book as a confidant to Charley; now she’s a waitress with a knack for baking. Miss Honey doesn’t exist, like her character is combined with Violet. In the show, Violet’s love interest is Hollywood, but in the book Hollywood is an old classmate of Ralph Angel who’s a little slow (he gets his nickname for loving tabloids) yet wants to be there for his friend while having a crush on Charley. Remy is an older white man, so Charley has reservations about dating him at first since she would be in an interracial relationship in the South. Micah is a boy in the show while his father is alive and well as a star basketball player who Charley leaves in the season premiere over a cheating scandal. In the book, girl Micah’s father is dead, which is the reason why Charley has been financially desperate to the point where she relocates to handle a sugarcane farm without experience. Also, Ralph Angel returns to town with Blue assuming his son’s mother died of a drug overdose since he abandoned her in a crack house in the book. The TV counterpart has the mother as a recovering addict but still alive and trying to make amends with her family. Prosper, the old farmer who helps Charley get her business moving, is probably the only character who’s stayed the same. And maybe Blue (though the Power Ranger he played with in the book evolved into a Barbie doll in the show).

Though the book sets a good layout for the TV show, it’s one of those stories fun to compare and contrast because there are multiple changes.

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