Best Fiction for Young Adults (#BFYA2022) Featured Review of Sugar Town Queens by Malla Nunn

Sugar Town Queens by Malla Nunn
Penguin Random House / G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Publication Date: August 3, 2021
ISBN: 978-0525515609

Biracial teen Amandla lives in Sugar Town, a township on the outskirts of Durban, South Africa with her single white mother. Ever cognizant of her mother’s fluctuating mental health, Amandla is concerned when her mother returns home from one of her secret trips to Durban with a large envelope full of cash and a mysterious note. Amandla and her friends decide to follow her mother to Durban where they discover that Amandla has an entire family she knows nothing about, with a history that will change everything she thinks she knows about herself and her mother. 

Sugar Town Queens provides readers with a rich, immersive portrait of life in post-apartheid South Africa while also offering an engaging family mystery. Amandla’s Sugar Town home stands in stark contrast to the sprawling mansion of the white family her mother grew up in. Likewise, the juxtaposition of the cold and often cruel white family that Amandla has just discovered against the warmth and compassion of her Sugar Town community is just as striking. The reverberations of the institutionalized racism from the apartheid era in South Africa are palpable. American readers will find many parallels in the themes Nunn has skillfully incorporated throughout the book.

Readers who appreciate reading about found family who live in extreme poverty and work together to take care of each other will also enjoy the Alex Award-nominated novel, A People’s History of Heaven by Mathangi Subramanian. For readers interested in seeing what South Africa was like before apartheid ended, When Morning Comes by Arushi Raina also combines mystery with solid character development. 

Courtney Waters (she/her/hers)

Other Nominated Titles

  • Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé (June 1, 2021)
  • Year of the Reaper by Makiia Lucier (November 9, 2021)

The Selected Lists teams read throughout the year in search of the best titles published in their respective categories. Once a book is suggested (either internally or through the title suggestion form), it must pass through a review process to be designated an official nomination. 

Each week, the teams feature a review of one of the officially nominated titles. Additional titles to receive this designation are listed as well. At year’s end, the team will curate a final list from all nominated titles and select a Top Ten. The previous years’ lists are available on The Hub.