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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Sula, the second novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison, is a complex story set in an African-American community in Ohio between 1919 and 1965. It follows two best girlfriends from childhood through old age and one woman's betrayal of the other. An American classic with themes and situations relevant to our time, the novel is best suited for older teens due to its adult content and situations. It may be OK for some younger teens with parental guidance, especially in discussing the ambiguity of the characters and their actions. The story includes death, loss, and sexual situations among adults, as well as descriptions of budding sexual awareness among teens. Violence includes a soldier's face blown off in war, a child's accidental drowning in a river, a woman's accidental burning to death, and a woman intentionally burning her son to death; children are beaten, there's talk of black men being killed by white men and having their testes cut off, and the historical raping of black women by white men is mentioned. Strong language used by the mostly adult characters includes "f--k," "a--hole," "whore," and the "N" word. Parents should be prepared to discuss the issues the book raises regarding race, gender, feminism, marriage, friendship, death, murder, parenthood, poverty, and PTSD.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Sula Peace and Nel Wright are inseparable girls. Where one ends, the other begins. They complement each other and together navigate life in the Bottom, their African-American community on a hill above a white Ohio town. Outsiders see the residents of the Bottom as complacent about their poverty and societal ills, yet those who live there see themselves as a community with a spirit, people who have learned from experience that the way to survive is to take life as it comes. As Sula and Nel grow older, they take wildly different paths. Their paths eventually cross again when one betrays the other, and the town is both drawn together and pulled apart. Is Sula Peace really the embodiment of evil, or is she the glue that keeps the community together?
Is it any good?
Heady, complex, haunting, and achingly beautiful, this classic American novel is a layered story that only gets more thought-provoking as readers delve deeper into its various themes and symbolism. Author Toni Morrison presents her characters as fully human and explores ideas and situations that are both true to life and jarring. Through the story of two girls, she explores serious themes, including poverty, racism, patriarchy, sexual and economic freedom of women, what happens when women eschew gender and societal norms, relationships between and among women, and PTSD triggered by war.
SULA is at once bound by its time (early to mid-20th century) and timeless, because the issues in the novel still have cultural and political relevance. It's a perfect book to stimulate deep discussions of broader societal issues.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the feminist themes in Sula. Are they the same as or different from feminist and girl-power issues of today?
What do you think of the level of violence in Sula? Is it important to the storytelling,and for historical accuracy, or does it seem like too much?
How is Sula and Nel's friendship when they were children different from their adult friendship? What's positive about their behavior as friends, and how does it mirror the frenemies/mean-girl attitudes we see portrayed in today's media?
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