The Bitter Side of Sweet

320p. bibliog. glossary. Putnam. Feb. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780399173073.
RedReviewStarGr 8 Up—The title of Sullivan's second novel is more description than metaphor, as it recounts the misery of child slavery on cacao farms in Africa. Facing hunger because of drought in their native Mali, 13-year-old Amadou and his beloved brother Seydou seek work to help their family. When the novel opens two years later, Amadou muses, "I don't count how many trees we pass because I don't count the things that don't matter. I don't count unripe pods. I don't count how many times I've been hit for being under quota. I don't count how many days it's been since I've given up hope of going home." Hope returns in the person of Khadijah, a hostage who is determined to escape even after a brutal punishment, reluctantly witnessed by Amadou. Their daring departure leads to action and adventure, some requiring suspension of disbelief. But the thrilling language, for example, the description of a terrifying leap into a speeding truck from an overhanging tree, races readers past the need for credibility. The novel's message is clear when the travelers reach relative safety with Khadijah's mother and Amadou tastes hot chocolate for the first time: "You mean that for the past two years we were kept on that farm to grow something that's a treat for city kids who can't sleep?" Back matter includes a glossary, list of sources, and an author's note with information about the international chocolate business. Readers are urged to choose fair trade chocolate as a step toward alleviating poverty among small cacao growers.
VERDICT An engaging story that will engender empathy in readers.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing