Saturday, January 30, 2016

*Review* The Bitter Side of Sweet by Tara Sullivan

Photo Credit: Goodreads
Genre: Young Adult
Published: February 23, 2016
Pages: 320
Setting: Ivory Coast


For fans of Linda Sue Park and A Long Way Gone, two young boys must escape a life of slavery in modern-day Ivory Coast

Fifteen-year-old Amadou counts the things that matter. For two years what has mattered are the number of cacao pods he and his younger brother, Seydou, can chop down in a day. This number is very important. The higher the number the safer they are because the bosses won’t beat them. The higher the number the closer they are to paying off their debt and returning home to Baba and Auntie. Maybe. The problem is Amadou doesn’t know how much he and Seydou owe, and the bosses won’t tell him. The boys only wanted to make some money during the dry season to help their impoverished family. Instead they were tricked into forced labor on a plantation in the Ivory Coast; they spend day after day living on little food and harvesting beans in the hot sun—dangerous, backbreaking work. With no hope of escape, all they can do is try their best to stay alive—until Khadija comes into their lives. 

She’s the first girl who’s ever come to camp, and she’s a wild thing. She fights bravely every day, attempting escape again and again, reminding Amadou what it means to be free. But finally, the bosses break her, and what happens next to the brother he has always tried to protect almost breaks Amadou. The old impulse to run is suddenly awakened. The three band together as family and try just once more to escape.

Tara Sullivan, the award-winning author of the astounding Golden Boy, delivers another powerful, riveting, and moving tale of children fighting to make a difference and be counted. Inspired by true-to-life events happening right now, The Bitter Side of Sweet is an exquisitely written tour de force not to be missed.


I received a copy of this book through Penguin's First to Read program in exchange for an honest review.

I liked how the book started and ended with "I only count the things that matter." It really brought the story full circle and worked well to set the scene in each instance. It also helped to plant me firmly in the main character's shoes right from the start, and kept me from abandoning them before the book was ready to let me go.

The descriptions were vivid and I had a very clear image in my head of what the camp and la brosse looked like while I was reading. I felt the sting of the whip and cowered in fear from the bosses wrath. These are not things I have personal experience with, but I felt them anyway.

Although this book is fiction, it seems clear to me that the author did her research about this very real problem. I am ashamed to admit that this book was even eye opening for me. It never occurred to me to wonder under what conditions cacao is grown for our chocolate. I love chocolate and have a particular weakness for Reese's peanut butter eggs, but now I will be doing research to ensure that I'm only buying chocolate from companies that do not use cacao harvested by child slaves in the future. 

Overall I give this book 5 out of 5 stars because it was an engrossing read and socially enlightening for me. I would urge anyone that eats chocolate to read it, and at least consider changing your chocolate buying habits. - Katie 

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About the Author

Tara Sullivan is the author of the award-winning and critically acclaimed novel Golden Boy. She holds a BA in Spanish literature and cognitive science from the University of Virginia, and an MA in Latin American studies and an MPA in nonprofit management from Indiana University. Tara lives with her family in Massachusetts.

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