The Bitter Side of Sweet
by Tara Sullivan
* * * * Stars (Great!)
Amadou and his younger brother Seydou have been tricked into working on a small, remote, cacao plantation in the Ivory Coast. They are far away from their home in Mali, which they left 2 years ago in order to find work and make money to send back home. This “job,” however, doesn’t pay, and the brothers, along with the other boys on the farm, are basically slaves. Everything changes when Khadija, a 13-year-old girl, is delivered to the farm. She immediately attempts to escape and Amadou ends up being punished along with her (taking the fall for his brother, whom she tricks). Khadija’s “wildcat” spirit and then Seydou’s life-threatening injury encourage Amadou to get them all out of the camp, if possible. Together they make their way to San Pedro, a larger city on the coast, and the last place Khadija saw her mother before she was kidnapped. Will they be able to find her, and will she be able to help Amadou and Seydou get home again?
This is an eye-opening story that gets into the uncomfortable truth of where much of our chocolate comes from – poor cacao farmers who often choose to use unpaid/slave child laborers to harvest and process their crops. The profits are mostly made by those who tax the chocolate and then the chocolate companies themselves, who are reluctant to get involved lest cacao prices rise. Amadou is unable to finish his hot chocolate – his first experience tasting actual chocolate – when he thinks about the children who were enslaved to produce it. Suspenseful and heart-breaking with some potentially disturbing episodes of violence. There is happier ending for Amadou and his brother, but their situation is not unique or rare and many other children still find themselves enslaved to those who would profit from their misfortune. An author’s note recaps the issues discussed in the book and offers some suggestions to readers who want to know more and do something to help.
Reviewed by YA Librarian