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.