Sullivan, Tara The Bitter Side of Sweet, 299 pages. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016. $17.99. Language: G (3 swears, 0 “f”); Mature Content: PG-13; Violence: PG-13.
“Chop, twist, toss, check” is fifteen year old Amadou’s constant mantra as he cuts cacao bean pods from high up in the branches of the trees. He tosses the pods down to his eight year old brother, Seydou, to shove in the burlap bag. It is hard, hot work and Amadou has to gather double the amount of pods to make sure that he and his little brother are not beaten at the end of the day. They are from Mali, not Ivory Coast where the farm is located, and were kidnapped with the promise of a season of work. That was two years ago and the bosses do not pay them, feed them much and lock them in at night. There is no escape; they tried once. One day, a girl, Khadija, is brought to the camp in chains. This “wild child” creates trouble for Amadou and Seydou; will they try to escape again? They do not want to “die invisible” with their families not knowing where they are.
This action packed story reflects the real life working conditions on small cacao farms in Ivory Coast, a subject not usually mentioned in YA literature. Children are kidnapped and enslaved to harvest the pods because the small farm owners make so little money. The author’s notes explain the difficulty of making the chocolate candy that the world loves so much. Descriptions of violent beatings are frequent in the story. The characters are believable in their despair, loyalty, and fearlessness (when needed). The theme is similar to Sold. It will would be a good classroom read and discussion.
HS - ADVISABLE. Sarah, Library Teacher