Fifteen-year-old Amadou's main concern is taking care of his little brother, who is too young to be held to the standards of the masters who set the quotas for harvesting the cacao. Two years ago, when they signed up for a season of harvesting to help out their impoverished family, they had no idea that they were signing up for a life of slavery. They have never been paid, and have no way of escaping this life. They are beaten regularly, hungry all the time, and Amadou has taken more than his share of the punishments because he covers for his brother.
When a girl arrives and is expected to join them in their harvesting, everything changes. She is a fighter -- much like Amadou used to be. He tries to convince her that there is no escape, but she continues to fight and be beaten for her behavior.
These three kids do manage to escape, in an unbelievable set of lucky circumstances, but their journey is only beginning.
They are surprisingly resilient, and they finally find a few adults who are willing to help them (barely.) The story of the girl and how she got herself into this situation is slowly revealed. And the mostly happy ending is a relief.
You can't help rooting for them. I did have a minor problem with the lucky breaks they got, but there were plenty of hardships to go along with them. The Bitter Side of Sweet is supposedly based in truth. There are children right now, mostly in Africa, harvesting cacao so that all of us on this side of the world can get our chocolate fix. It makes you think.
There is an author's note at the end where she explains a bit about this mostly ignored problem. I would have liked a bit more about this. There is an act that has been passed to protect these children, but she states that it isn't doing much good. She gives suggestions about contacting chocolate companies in this country. She mentions "fair trade" cocoa, but I'm not sure how to get such a thing. She does refer to her website (www.TaraSullivanBooks.com) for more information. The Bitter Side of Sweet would be a great classroom read and provides a good start to get students to do some research.
The Bitter Side of Sweet is a quick, easy read and does a good job of keeping you turning the pages. This would be a good one for middle school or high school, including reluctant readers, who enjoy survival stories.
Published by G. P. Putnam's Sons BFYR, February 23, 2016
Copy obtained from the library
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