Sugar in Milk

For the young narrator of Sugar in Milk, the stress of moving to the United States is compounded by the fact that her immediate family remains back in her unnamed homeland. Within this story line, Thrity Umrigar (When I Carried You in My Belly) has nestled a separate immigration parable, creating a powerful one-two punch of empathy.

One day, the narrator's aunt, with whom she is living, invites the girl to take a neighborhood walk with her, during which Auntie tells a story about some exiles of ancient Persia. In search of shelter, the exiles sailed to the shores of India. The Indian king, acknowledging the language barrier, illustrated his answer--"Our land is too crowded... with no room for others"--by filling an empty glass to the brim with milk. This gave the leader of the exiles an idea. (Hint: it involved a spoonful of sugar.) Sure enough, he convinced the king to welcome him and his fellow exiles, just as Auntie's story convinces the narrator that her new neighbors are happy to have her.

For Sugar in Milk, Khoa Le (Flash and Gleam) employs a creamy palette dominated by blues and reds that suit the king's lavish surroundings as well as the girl's bustling urban environment. Another potent unifier of the book's two strands: the pair of blue peacocks that appear, tapestry-like, in the parable's background show up in the present day just as Auntie's story opens the narrator's eyes to "the dazzling light of America." --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

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