Title: Sugar Town Queens
Author: Malla Nunn
Genre: Young Adult – Ages 13-18
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: August 2021
Malla Nunn’s novel Sugar Town Queens is a beautiful yet complex read on growing up divided and the importance of friendship and family. The novel follows Amandla, a fifteen-year-old living with her single mother in Sugar Town, a shanty town in South Africa. Amandla is brown, and her mother is white and the only white woman who lives in Sugar Town. Amandla’s mother shares very little with her daughter on their past, and when she does it is in a cryptic state, when her mother seems to be a completely different person. When Amandla discovers a name and address in her mother’s purse, she enlists the help of Lil Bit her best friend, and Goodness a new addition to their small circle of friendship to discover what this note means. The journey leads Amandla to discovering more about who she is and where she comes from.
While this is a fictional novel, there are many informative elements that allow you as a reader to understand more from the society Amandla is living in. There are important discussions of race, economic disparity, growth, and identity. Sugar Town is a shanty town on the edge of South Africa’s third biggest city Durban. Throughout the novel Amandla introduces readers to some of the inhabitants, which are made up of those on the poorer side of the economy. There is crime and disadvantage highlighted at points in the novel adding to the surroundings Amandla is living in. All these issues thrown at Amandla just become another hurdle she learns to jump over.
Amandla’s character is so important for young girls to see as she is strong willed and outspoken on issues important to her. She is not afraid to fight those who are making wrongs against her. She is quick witted and often mouthy. Her interaction with a security guard in Durban made me smile, when she asks, “you serious, brah?’ My mouth jumps into action” (p 149). She is young and unafraid and reminds me a lot of someone I would have wished to have been at 15. Amandla’s life is not without struggles though, and Nunn does not shy away from the gritty aspects of life in a shanty town like Sugar Town. I think it is important, especially reading from a place of privilege to read the experiences of others and become aware of different aspects of their lives.
While much of the novel discusses elements of race, family, class, and patriarchy the story often incorporates comic relief after tough or tense interactions, especially through the characters of Lil Bit and Goodness. These girls much like Amandla are important female characters to have for young girls and women to look up to. They alone are such a special addition to the story and really keep things light when things were going array for Amandla and her family. The first-person point of view offered from Amandla adds so much personality to the story while revealing valuable knowledge and offering readers more of an understanding of the experience’s others have. If you are looking for an incredible story that also keeps you informed on important issues and themes in the world Sugar Town Queens should be next on your list.