Ava DuVernay and Oprah Winfrey have teamed up to bring Natalie Baszile’s debut novel Queen Sugar to the small screen, and it’s the perfect story for a fall drama. Family estrangements, overt sexism, simmering racial tensions, romance — Queen Sugar brings it all, with a backdrop of the verdant Louisiana sugar cane fields. So far, though, the series has veered considerably from the novel in several key areas. Here are some spoilers from the book you can use to compare the two.
Warning! Do not keep reading unless you want spoilers from the novel Queen Sugar!
1. Both Charley’s and Ralph Angel’s spouses died in horrible ways
Charley and Ralph Angel have one tragic thing in common: They both were widowed and left with young children. Charley’s husband was gunned down in a mugging, leaving her to raise their daughter Micah on her own. Ralph Angel’s wife died of a drug overdose that almost took his life too — and their son Blue was waiting in the car for them.
2. It’s obvious who Ernest favored, and everyone suffers for it
Charley and Ralph Angel may share DNA from their father, Ernest, but that’s about it. Ralph Angel was left behind in Louisiana while Ernest started his life in California, and he was raised by a mentally ill mother in near poverty. Charley lived the typical California girl lifestyle. Ralph Angel’s short-lived attempt at living with his dad in California ended badly because of his envy of Charley. Eventually he is totally cut off when he continues to cash his dad’s tuition checks after dropping out of school. When Ernest dies before the book begins, it is Charley alone who receives his inheritance. Ralph Angel is not so much as mentioned in the will.
3. Miss Honey set Ralph Angel’s downward spiral in motion before he was even born
When Ernest’s girlfriend, Emily, falls pregnant right before he is set to move to California, Miss Honey — Charley and Ralph Angel’s grandmother — decides she can’t let anything stand in his way. She pays Emily’s parents to keep her away from her son, and as a result, Ralph Angel is raised by his mentally ill mother and has little contact with his father. Emily later commits suicide. Because of this, as Miss Honey explains to Charley, she blames herself for much of Ralph Angel’s lot in life.
4. Charley and Micah’s arguments go beyond typical teen angst
Charley blames herself for Micah’s disfiguring burns, the result of a cooking accident that happened when Charley was emotionally debilitated after her husband’s death and Micah was forced to fend for herself. Micah is furious with Charley for moving her to Louisiana and desperately tries to convince her mom to send her back to live with her grandmother in Los Angeles. It doesn’t work.
5. Even the “good guy” is racist
Remy appears to be the perfect love interest for Charley: warm, intelligent, successful in his own right, a fellow farmer who understands the pressures of the lifestyle. They go on what would have been a perfect date, until he ruins it by telling Charley she’s not like other black people. She tells him off, then takes off. Her Aunt Violet talks her into giving him another chance, and after running into him at the Sugar Festival, she does — and things get about as steamy as they can get.
6. Ralph Angel’s envy eventually boils over into violence
Charley finally caves and gives Ralph Angel a job at the farm, and his huge ego causes him to fail miserably. He steals the Cane Cutter statue that Charley was planning to sell to raise funds to save the farm. When he shows up later the next night without the statue, cousin John, an imposing corrections officer with whom Ralph Angel has a rocky history, stands up for Charley, and a brawl breaks out. Ralph Angel grabs John’s gun and shoots him, then forces Blue into their stolen rental car to attempt a quick getaway. They are soon pulled over, and Ralph Angel is killed when the cop sees John’s gun on his hip.
7. Despite huge setbacks at every turn, Charley gets her happy ending
Weekly it seems Charley is about to lose everything. Between untended fields, borers eating her crops, a hurricane and a total lack of funds, things look pretty grim for our girl. Every time she overcomes one obstacle, three more pop up in her path. After Ralph Angel steals the statue she was going to sell to raise funds, there is no hope left — or so she thinks. Hollywood, the sweet-but-slow neighbor who mows lawns for a living, saves the day when he tells Charley he will happily give her the money she needs — a whopping $50,000! — because she has always been kind to him. And as it turns out, Ralph Angel didn’t hock the statue after all. She is able to save the farm and reap her first season of sugar. She decides to adopt Blue and raise him with Micah, and she gets her guy too. She and Remy are still dating as the novel closes.
Are you watching the Queen Sugar series, or have you read the book? Tell us what you think of both in the comments below!
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