Pale-skinned visitors enter your African village. Although they make you anxious, you help welcome them with a feast. Your fears come to fruition, however, as the visitors massacre the villagers, including your parents and little brother, and tear you away from your betrothed. Taking its title from a Countee Cullen poem, Copper Sun describes 15-year-old Amari's capture and life as a slave in 1738.
Horror upon horror erupts as Amari endures the Middle Passage, living among human waste, starvation and repeated rapes, and wondering if she is sailing to the edge of the world. Paraded around naked and inspected as if she were an animal, Amari is sold to Mr. Derby, a South Carolina plantation owner, to be used sexually by his son. Worked to exhaustion, whipped for dropping a pie and witness to the abuse of slave children, the girl often wishes for death.
Interspersed with Amari's point of view is that of Polly, also 15 and an indentured servant. Required to work for 14 years (rather than the customary seven) because her parents died of smallpox and left her in debt, Polly thinks Blacks are an inferior race created for work. After being forced to live in a situation not much better than a slave's, however, she finds compassion for the slaves and friendship with Amari.
When a social taboo occurs on the plantation and Mr. Derby threatens to sell some of his slaves, Amari and Polly, along with the four-year-old child of the slave cook, seize the opportunity to escape. Instead of heading north, the three travel south toward Fort Mose in the Spanish colony of Florida. The path is arduous, always with the risk of being caught, as they make their way to this refuge for slaves.
This well-researched, intense and often shocking novel is one that will be talked about—and cried along with—for a long time to come. No other book for teens delves into the atrocities of slavery and indentured servitude with such immediacy and realism. Despite all that Amari endures, author Sharon Draper, the granddaughter of a slave, shows that survival comes with hope.
Angela Leeper is a consultant and freelance writer in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Copyright 2006 BookPage Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2006 Fall
Kidnapped from her village at fifteen and subjected to the horrific Middle Passage, Amari is sold to a South Carolina planter, along with Polly, a white indentured servant. Amari endures beatings and rape, but she finds a friend in Polly, who joins her escape. Some passages seem more told than shown, but Draper succeeds in dramatizing the slave experience. Copyright 2006 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2006 January #1
Poignant and harrowing, this narrative of early America alternates between the voices of enslaved Amari and indentured servant Polly, building a believable interracial friendship centered on the common goal of freedom. Amari is captured from her idyllic home in Africa, and sold into slavery in the New World. While accounts of the attack on the tribe and the Middle Passage are ephemeral, the story hits its stride upon Amari's arrival in colonial South Carolina. At the slave auction, the reader is introduced to Amari's new masters and Polly, who is a new servant in their household. Polly initially dislikes the African slaves, viewing them as strange competition for limited work, yet grows to sympathize with Amari's plight when she is repeatedly raped by the master's son, Clay. Polly's cynicism and realistic outlook on life provides a welcome contrast to the lost innocence of Amari, whose voice often disappears beneath the misery of her circumstances (save for in one unforgettable passage at the end, where she encounters her betrothed from her village, and mourns the loss of what might have been). Sobering, yet essential. (Historical fiction. YA) Copyright Kirkus 2006 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
Library Media Connection - June/July 2006
Sharon Draper, author of The Battle of Jericho (Atheneum (Simon & Schuster), 2003), offers young adult readers an exciting, yet sobering story of the slave trade and plantation life in the 18th Century. Amari, a fifteen-year-old African girl, survives the burning and looting of her village and the brutal murder of her family only to be dragged aboard a slave ship where miserable, unsanitary conditions and cruel treatment threaten her already fragile physical and emotional constitution. Arriving in America, she is auctioned off. Amari and an indentured white girl, Polly, find themselves unlikely friends when they are forced to live together in the slave quarters. Purchased as a birthday gift for the master's sixteen-year-old son, Amari's only hope is escape. The master's fury spurs Amari and Polly to escape toward a place of freedom they've only heard about, Fort Mose, a Spanish colony in Florida. This character-rich, moving story of two young women facing overwhelming odds will catch the interest of many readers who have a love of history. It is a great story that will increase students' knowledge of slavery and indentured servitude and its impact on the young people of that time period. Highly Recommended. Kathryn Childs, Library Media Specialist, Morris (Oklahoma) Mid/Hi School Library Â© 2006 Linworth Publishing, Inc.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2006 January #2
Draper's (Forged by Fire ) historical novel takes on an epic sweep as it chronicles the story of 15-year-old Amari, kidnapped from her African village in 1738 and sold into sexual slavery in South Carolina. The horrors of the kidnapping--Amari's parents and little brother are murdered before her eyes--and the Atlantic crossing unwind in exhaustive detail, but the material seems familiar. The story doesn't really take off until Amari reaches her new "home," a rice plantation run by a Snidely Whiplash clone, who presents her to his evil-to-the-core son as a birthday gift. Befriended by the wise cook, a white indentured girl named Polly and the beleaguered mistress of the household, Amari eventually and improbably finds a way to escape. Draper has obviously done her homework, but the narrative wears its research heavily. Every bad thing that befell an African slave either happens to or is witnessed by Amari (e.g., Africans eaten by sharks, children used as live alligator bait, an infant shot dead out of spite). Rape is constant. These lurid elements may appeal to reluctant readers who would normally shy away from historical fiction, but they unfortunately push the story to the brink of melodrama. The author also pulls her punches with a highly implausible happy ending. But after all that Amari has gone through, readers will likely find the conclusion a huge relief. Ages 14-up. (Jan.)[Page 55]. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Gr 8 Up -This action-packed, multifaceted, character-rich story describes the shocking realities of the slave trade and plantation life while portraying the perseverance, resourcefulness, and triumph of the human spirit. Amari is a 15-year-old Ashanti girl who is happily anticipating her marriage to Besa. Then, slavers arrive in her village, slaughter her family, and shatter her world. Shackled, frightened, and despondent, she is led to the Cape Coast where she is branded and forced onto a "boat of death" for the infamous Middle Passage to the Carolinas. There, Percival Derby buys her as a gift for his son's 16th birthday. Trust and friendship develop between Amari and Polly, a white indentured servant, and when their mistress gives birth to a black baby, the teens try to cover up Mrs. Derby's transgression. However, Mr. Derby's brutal fury spurs them to escape toward the rumored freedom of Fort Mose, a Spanish colony in Florida. Although the narrative focuses alternately on Amari and Polly, the story is primarily Amari's, and her pain, hope, and determination are acute. Cruel white stereotypes abound except for the plantation's mistress, whose love is colorblind; the doctor who provides the ruse for the girls' escape; and the Irish woman who gives the fugitives a horse and wagon. As readers embrace Amari and Polly, they will better understand the impact of human exploitation and suffering throughout history. In addition, they will gain a deeper knowledge of slavery, indentured servitude, and 18th-century sanctuaries for runaway slaves.-Gerry Larson, Durham School of the Arts, NC[Page 130]. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.