Saturday, September 24, 2016

Review: The Bitter Side of Sweet by Tara Sullivan

Title: The Bitter Side of Sweet
Author: Tara Sullivan
Year Published: 2016

Genre: YA Fiction
Pages: 299
Rating: 5 out of 5

Location (my 2016 Google Reading map)Côte d'Ivoire

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the back of the book): Fifteen-year-old Amadou counts the things that matter. And for two long years, what's mattered most to him and his little brother, Seydou, are cacao pods. The more they can chop down and collect in a day, the better their chances of staying alive, and maybe, just maybe, earning enough to buy their freedom to return home.

When the boys left their family in Mali to find work, they never imagined they'd end up as forced labor on a cacao planation in the Ivory Coast, but that's exactly what happened. And with each passing day, their resolve to keep going, to keep counting, grows even weaker. That is until Khadija arrives. The first girl they've seen at the camp, Khadija's a wild thing who fights every day to get away. She reawakens old impulses in Amadou to run, and when the unthinkable happens to Seydou, they realize that there's only one thing that truly counts--their freedom.

Review: Oh my. This book is so good and so important. And yes, a number of times while reading it I swore I would give up chocolate. I loved Tara Sullivan's first novel, Golden Boy, and knew that I would like this one, too. She tells a good story, but more than that, she tells important stories.

I liked Amadou and Seydou from the very beginning. They are likable boys that you just want to rescue and take care of, but you also know they are strong enough to take care of themselves. While they have never gone to school, they are street smart and love each other the way family should. We learn of their background slowly in amongst the current story of working on the cacao plantation. And the conditions are deplorable. There are many moments in the book that are painful to read, especially when you remember that, while this book is fiction, it is based on reality. Khadija is also a good character and brings in the issue or human trafficking.

The story moves quickly, is engrossing, and (no surprise) brought me to tears at various points. I felt so invested in the characters, their efforts to be humane, to survive against all odds, and to work to make their lives better. As I said above, I do think this is an important story to tell and Tara Sullivan tells it well.

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