The Bitter Side of Sweet, by Tara Sullivan (2016)

Grit Lit
13-16
The Bitter Side of Sweet, by Tara SullivanAmadou is 13 years old when he leaves home with his little brother Seydou in search of work. A lengthy drought has left the fields of Mali dry and barren, and though Seydou is only six, Amadou knows one less mouth to feed will help his father and aunt survive. The boys are “hired” to work a cacao plantation, only to discover they are somehow deeply in debt to the owners. “The bosses said we could leave when we’d earned out our purchase price,” Amadou eventually explains. “But they wouldn’t tell me how much we owed, and in all the time we worked there, I only saw boys arrive or die, never leave when they wanted to. And we never once got paid.” Two years later, Amadou has hardened into one of the strongest labourers, fiercely protective of his still small brother, taking the beatings when they don’t pick enough bean pods to please Moussa. The food is thin and scarce, and living conditions are brutal. But it’s the world they now know, and Amadou has given up thoughts of liberty and home. Until Khadija arrives. She’s unusual in so many ways – she’s the first girl to arrive, and the only worker on the truck, also a first. She has soft hands and is educated. She’s also desperate to escape, trying again and again, proving neither boss nor boy can trust her. But when tragedy strikes, Amadou, Seydou and Khadija form an unlikely alliance in a desperate bid for freedom. The award-winning author of Golden Boy, Sullivan draws on her roots as she explores the world of child labour in the chocolate industry. The daughter of international aid workers, she grew up in Bangladesh, Ecuador, Bolivia and the Dominican Republic, and her writing challenges young readers to learn more about injustices around the world by telling stories of young people who stand up and make a difference. She uses a first person voice in present tense, lending a sense of immediacy that heightens both tension and impact. A rape scene is written so that younger readers may not recognize it as such, though the authentic descriptions of violence and wounds are disturbing. Sullivan includes a short but informative afterword, a brief source list, and a one-page glossary of Bambara and French phrases used in the book.
More discussion and reviews of this novel: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25613902
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About Michelle Mallette
I'm just trying to keep track of the books I've read - what I liked and what isn't worth re-reading. My work as a librarian has included youth services so you'll find a wide range of interests from picture books and teen dystopia to adult sci-fi, road trip novels, and nonfiction. Comments and communication is always welcome.

2 Responses to The Bitter Side of Sweet, by Tara Sullivan (2016)

  1. I have this on my TBR list, Michelle. Thank you for the reminder about it. I’m intrigued by the setting in Mali – I don’t think I’ve ever read anything set there.

  2. Let us know what you think. The plantation is probably located in neighbouring Ivory Coast. It wasn’t clear in the text, and the e-copy I had did not render the maps well, so I didn’t mention it!

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