Book Review: The Bitter Side of Sweet by Tara Sullivan

by Alex Kim, Teen Volunteer

Rating: 5 out of 5 starsbookcover

The Bitter Side of Sweet by Tara Sullivan is an interesting book. It’s about two boys, fifteen year old Amadou and his little brother Seydou, on a cacao plantation in the Ivory Coast working as child slaves.

Everything goes pretty normal. Beatings occur on a regular basis, limbs get chopped sometimes, and children fall sick and die; this is basically slavery in a nutshell. In a camp full of guys, they still manage to crack jokes and “enjoy” their lifestyle, as long as they don’t get caught by the masters and are fine with starving most of the time. Nevertheless, it’s pretty obvious that their life is harsh, and not just for children.

Until a girl shows up. Unlike the others, who already gave up on the idea of trying to run away from camp (they would receive a good, old-fashioned beating if they were caught), this girl, Khadija, repeatedly tried to run away. When Seydou’s arm was amputated because “it was infected,” Amadou, who tried running away before, decided that only freedom truly mattered to them.

And yes, this book got me thinking. A lot. I’m sitting in my office chair, typing this away, while children younger than me are climbing up trees with machetes and getting beat when they don’t meet the ridiculously high quota set by their masters. It also made me feel guilty while I was eating chocolate, because I don’t even know if the cacao pods used to make the chocolate were picked by “fairly-treated, well-paid” workers or child slaves who were treated like the children in this novel.

In addition, this book showed me that some people simply struggled to survive, not because of their physical/mental limitations, but the limitations set on them by other people, whether it’s because of one’s gender, social class, etc. This is illustrated through the brothers, who were tricked into working on the farm because their family in Mali needed extra money, and Khadija, who tested the boundaries set for women in their culture by wanting to become a doctor.

All in all, I have to say that this book was a great one, from start to finish. It successfully managed to tell an emotional story while introducing a captivating, unique cast that doesn’t feel generic. It is without doubt that Sullivan wrote an excellent novel that raises awareness about the issue surrounding child slavery in the Ivory Coast for cacao bean plantations.

Alex Kim is a junior at HVCHS and a teen volunteer at the Pennington Public Library. He also (barely) participates in his school Model UN club as well playing the cello for the NJ All-State Orchestra (and also somehow went to Nashville for nationals!), and enjoys spending free time doing absolutely nothing like a lazy sloth. However, Alex does work hard in the rare circumstances when one can see him doing work, like when he struggled to write this terrible short autobiography defaming himself.