Patricia Storace's Sugar Cane: A Caribbean Rapunzel
Book review by Monica Friedman
An Uplifting Retelling of a Classic Fairy Tale, with Island Flair
There is much to love in this version of the beloved story of the girl in the tower, given new life as a Caribbean tale.
Raúl Colón’s wind-swept illustrations allow the rich colors of Sugar Cane’s world to shine through, along with the warm, lush details: the curls of her famous hair, the waves of the blue-green ocean, the powerful emotions that move the various charters. Sugar Cane’s brown skin seems to glow in the sunlight. The water almost appears to move. Flying birds in the sky create a different sense of motion, as do other choices in the drawings: the father’s expression of frustration as he tries to satisfy his pregnant wife, the witch’s initial appearance.
The story is more or less familiar. Sugar Cane’s parents are thrilled to expect a child into their family, but her mother craves an unobtainable treat: they are beach dwellers, and sugar cane grows inland. In his attempt to please his wife, the father runs afoul of a witch, Madame Fate, who grants him the plant but promises to steal the child on her first birthday.
Madame Fate provides Sugar Cane a first class education. Since she is “a conjure-woman who could bring people back from the dead,” Sugar Cane’s teachers are history’s greatest, “her piano teacher a jazz master from New Orleans,” and “She learned poetry from a Greek epic poet.”
However, her only living companion is a sugar-loving monkey, Callaloo, so she is enchanted when she first meets King, short for “King of Song,” who has won the carnival music contests three years in a row. They are drawn together by their shared love of music. King brings Sugar Cane gifts and they plan to run away together, but, of course, Madame Fate intervenes.
There is some great magic at play here. One of King’s gifts to Sugar Cane, a wave-shaped barrette, transforms to carry the banished Sugar Cane safe to another island. The power of song, along with a jeweled butterfly (another of his gifts), help reunite the lovers (but only after the strong, smart, independent Sugar Cane has found gainful employment and built her own guitar in a new city).
Finally, this version improves upon the original by reuniting Sugar Cane with her biological parents, through the device of a coral necklace (now worn as a bracelet by the adult daughter), marked with all their initials.
Of course, now they truly can live happily ever after. The wedding continues amidst much dancing, so that, “Some of the people who went to that wedding are still dancing,” and the young couple, “lived so happily that they even remembered to wish love and happiness to you and me.” Sugar Cane: A Caribbean Rapunzel is a worthy retelling of a beloved story, sure to delight princess-loving little girls everywhere. It is a tale that combines the old trope of true love with the new trope of agency, turning a traditional fairy tale into an empowering one.
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