Draper, Sharon M. Copper sun.
DRAPER, Sharon M. Copper sun. Simon & Schuster, Pulse. 302p.
c2006. 1-4169-5348-5. $8.99. S *
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, January 2006: In
the classic The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois, speaking of the
slaves' sorrow songs, writes, "Through all of the Sorrow Songs
there breathes a hope--a faith in the ultimate justice of things."
This premise is suggested in Copper Sun, the story of 15-year-old
Amira's enslavement and journey to freedom. Purchased as a gift for
Clay Derby, Amira's primary purpose is to satisfy him sexually by
night and physically as a laborer by day. An excerpt from Harlem
Renaissance poet Countee Cullen's poem, "Heritage," opens
the novel, bringing to mind one of his earliest books of poetry, Copper
Sun, while illuminating the book's theme: what is Africa to me?
Quite graphic at times and perhaps a difficult read for some (as is Gary
Paulsen's Nightjohn), the atrocities emphasized (e.g., rape,
murder, torture) are necessary to convey key questions posed in the
novel: how do we understand the resilience of American slaves? How was
the treatment of slaves, white women, and poor whites similar, yet
different? How does slavery impact contemporary America? Scholars of
African American literature argue that authors of contemporary novels
about slavery have certain literary freedoms that authors of actual
slave narratives did not, as the former were encouraged to write stories
that would be endorsed by abolitionists. Draper charters territory few
traditional slave narratives dared when she explores a consenting sexual
relationship between Derby's mistress and her "bodyguard"
that results in the birth of a black daughter, depicts the cook as more
than willing to poison her owners when they threaten to sell her only
child, and troubles the assumption that all white women were
"free." Already being compared to Roots, this novel is best
suited for mature YA readers, and accompanied by discussions about early
African culture and sensibility, acts of resistance executed by slaves
(alone and in partnerships with indentured servants), and abolitionist
efforts. (An ALA Best Book for YAs, and winner of the Coretta Scott King
Award.) KaaVonia Hinton, Ph.D., Old Dominian Univ., Norfolk, VA