The novel opens in a place called the Bottom, and the first person we meet is Shadrack. He has returned from WWI a shell-shocked veteran, and when he finally gets out of the hospital after being injured he starts National Suicide Day as a way to cope with death. (This day becomes important by the end of the novel.)
We then meet Helene Sabat, her grandmother Cecile, and her daughter Nel. Helene is very strict, has opinions about everyone and everything, and does a pretty good job of making sure that Nel doesn’t have much fun. After Helene and Nel travel to Helene’s hometown in an attempt to visit the dying Cecile, Nel starts to rebel. When she returns, she befriends Sula, which marks the start of a lifelong friendship. Helene, however, doesn’t approve of Sula’s mother, Hannah. Sula’s family is very different from Nel’s. Sula’s house is always busy and noisy, her mother isn’t concerned about what’s proper or improper .
Despite their differences, Sula and Nel become fiercely attached to each other. However, a traumatic accident changes everything. One day, Sula playfully swings a neighborhood boy, Chicken Little, around by his hands. When she loses her grip, the boy falls into a nearby river and drowns. They never tell anyone about the accident even though they did not intend to harm the boy.
Sula’s mom Hannah dies in a fire; Nel gets married to a man named Jude; and Sula leaves town and returns after 10 years .
Jude leaves Nel because of Sula . Jude loved Sula . Nel breaks off her friendship with Sula. Sula falls ill shortly after that and eventually dies.
The novel jumps ahead about 25 years. Nel visits Sula’s grandmother Eva in the senior home. Eva accuses Nel of standing by and letting Chicken Little drown all those years ago. We find out that it’s true: Nel watched him drown and enjoyed it. She’s so upset that she heads to Sula’s grave and sadly thinks about how none of the townspeople mourned Sula’s death. As she’s leaving, she passes Shadrack on the street, who is also lost in sad thoughts. Suddenly, Nel calls out for Sula and finally forgives her for cheating with Jude. She starts crying, for the first time in years. The novel’s final line leaves us with the image of a grieving Nel.
Reviewed by Preethi Krishnan