Book Reviews

The Sugar House- Jean Scheffler


The Sugar House story is told by eight-year-old Joe, not Joseph, Jopolowksi. However, the nuns at school insisted on calling him Joseph “despite the fact that his birth certificate clearly stated his name is Joe. He even brought it to school and showed it to Sister Mary Monica to no avail. She had responded curtly, “Joe is not a given name,” and there was no further discussion,” (8). The same thing happened to me in both elementary school and in catechism class; I was told numerous times that “Kristy” is a “nick name,” even though it is in fact my given name. Therefore, I could immediately relate to Joe’s plight!

In the early 1900’s Joe lives in Detroit with his parents and younger brother. They’re not rich by any means (sour cream and a boat ride are extravagances) but they always have enough food to eat, a safe home to sleep in, and caring family members nearby. Joe’s childhood is quite typical; he attends Catholic school, goes to church every Sunday, has chores, loves baseball, etc. However, after he contacts influenza, he spends many months in a sanatorium, away from his family and everything familiar. When he’s finally well enough to return home, he meets Stephan (his baby brother), learns that the US is at war, and is surprised by how many people have moved into Detroit and by how many buildings have been erected. But the most difficult change is when Joe’s father reports for duty in the war. When Joe asks his father why he has to go, his father says, “Joe, you are truly an American. Yes, you’re Polish, but you were born here. That’s why Matka and I named you Joe and not Joseph or Josephat. You have the fighting spirit of an American and no one can ever take your citizenship from you. I want to be a true American like you. When I come back from fighting for this country, everyone will see that I am a real patriot and I will be a true American. Do you understand?” (158). Only after his father leaves for war that Joe truly learns what it means to be a man.

The Sugar House is rich with detail from the Polish food, language, and customs, to the bustling city of Detroit during the Roaring 20’s.

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