I have a standing (almost never used ) policy with my students that if they tell me about a book or bring me a book I will read it and talk with them about it. Ideally, they will write me a paragraph explaining why they like it or why they want to share it. This is one of those books.
It’s interesting because this particular student is really sweet and funny, but not necessarily always engaged in class or has shown this kind of initiative before. It’s also funny because when I had this sitting on my desk in the classroom, several other students from other classes kept telling me that it’s their favorite book.
So the story is basically, two intertwined stories about a west African woman captured and enslaved and sold to a plantation out of New Orleans. In addition to her story, we have the perspective of a white indentured servant serving her time plus her parents, for a total of 14 years (she’s 16). Their story plays out through the novel. The white woman has a clear step up in her existence, even though her indentured status and her whiteness allow her more freedoms–movement and education among them. She also has a clear racial chip on her shoulder.
The events in this book are brutal and cruel, the language is direct and clear (good for students), and the politics and humanity are complex. The white indentured servant does not have it good at, and little is gained in her advantages, but the book doesn’t shy away from her advantages. The book is clear slavery, no matter how “good,” is inherently violent and criminal, and so the story does a good job of not muddying the differences while still allowing for distinctions.
I got to thinking when my student who is 16/17 and African-American told me this is her favorite book. I also had a favorite book that had to do with this time period, Rifles for Watie, about a young Kansas teen boy who joins the Union army. Now, Copper Sun is not a Civil War novel. It’s something altogether different, but I thought about them together.
I reveled in a book about a kid who got to be a Civil War spy in a novel that doesn’t even talk about slavery. And for my students, they get to read about slavery. They would have no one to identify with my novel, and the only person I can identify with the slaveowner.
This really is a good novel and my thoughts have nothing to do with it. It has goals and works toward. I am more so just thinking about how representation works in YA lit.