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The Bitter Side of Sweet

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Two young boys must escape a life of slavery in modern-day Ivory Coast

Fifteen-year-old Amadou counts the things that matter. For two years what has mattered are the number of cacao pods he and his younger brother, Seydou, can chop down in a day. This number is very important. The higher the number the safer they are because the bosses won’t beat them. The higher the number the closer they are to paying off their debt and returning home to Baba and Auntie. Maybe. The problem is Amadou doesn’t know how much he and Seydou owe, and the bosses won’t tell him. The boys only wanted to make some money during the dry season to help their impoverished family. Instead they were tricked into forced labor on a plantation in the Ivory Coast; they spend day after day living on little food and harvesting beans in the hot sun—dangerous, backbreaking work. With no hope of escape, all they can do is try their best to stay alive—until Khadija comes into their lives.

She’s the first girl who’s ever come to camp, and she’s a wild thing. She fights bravely every day, attempting escape again and again, reminding Amadou what it means to be free. But finally, the bosses break her, and what happens next to the brother he has always tried to protect almost breaks Amadou. The old impulse to run is suddenly awakened. The three band together as family and try just once more to escape.

336 pages, Hardcover

First published February 23, 2016

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About the author

Tara Sullivan

3 books81 followers
Tara Sullivan is an award-winning author of Young Adult novels that address contemporary human rights issues. Born in India, she spent her childhood in Bangladesh, Ecuador, Bolivia, and the Dominican Republic. She received a BA in Spanish literature and cognitive science from the University of Virginia, and a MA/MPA in Latin American studies/nonprofit management from Indiana University. Her debut, GOLDEN BOY, won the 2014 Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People Award, and was selected as a best book of the year by YALSA, Kirkus Reviews and the Wall Street Journal. Her second novel, THE BITTER SIDE OF SWEET, won the 2017 Children’s Africana Book Award: Honor and was an ALSC Notable Children’s Book of 2017. Tara lives and writes in Massachusetts. Check out her newest book, TREASURE OF THE WORLD, and find out more at: http://www.TaraSullivanBooks.com

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 611 reviews
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,686 reviews14k followers
December 6, 2016
The dark underbelly of the chocolate industry, an indulgence many of us can't live without. Well, personally I can, I'm more into salty snacks, seems like you are either one or the other. Anyway apparently 40% of the cocoa pods are harvested on the Ivory coast of Africa, large farms and harvested by children in slave conditions. This is the story of three of them. Amadou is 13, his brother Seydou only six when they leave their home in Mali to, work on one such farm. They expect to get paid, make money to send home to their impoverished family. Instead they find themselves unpaid, kept as prisoners, barely fed, worked on a quota system, severely beaten for an infraction. A young girl Khadja, will be brought to the farm, the first time a girl has been brought here to work, but she is different and she and an terrible accident that s
Seydou suffers will change everything.

Written in a straightforward, sometimes simplistic manner, chronologically told this is a story that is at times hard to read. Anytime children are involved, mistreated it is difficult. So eye opening, informative, once one knows it is hard to not know. The author discusses the chocolate industry further in her author's note at books end as well as what we can do to end this horrible situation the children of the Ivory Coast and elsewhere find themselves.

ARC from Netgalley.

Profile Image for Taryn.
324 reviews292 followers
November 21, 2016
Fast-paced and engaging story about the dark side of the chocolate industry. For 12 & up.

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.

Two years ago, Amadou (15) and his brother Seydou (8) left their home in Mali to find a seasonal job and earn money for their family. Instead, they were brought to the Ivory Coast and sold into slavery on a cacao farm. The work is dangerous and the children are beaten and starved if they don’t meet the undefined quota. The bosses promise they can return home when they pay off their debt, but Amadou has never seen anyone being released from duty. One day, a girl is brought to the camp. Khadija (13) is defiant and determined to escape. Amadou had lost all hope of ever going home, but her willful spirit makes him start thinking about the outside world again. When Seydou’s life comes under threat, Amadou sees no other choice but to attempt an escape.

“A lot of bad things happened to us . . . Just because you were there when they happened doesn’t mean they’re your fault.”

The story is told from Amadou's perspective. Amadou feels guilty about bringing his beloved brother into this horrific situation. He's done everything he can to protect Seydou, but he’s beginning to feel resentful. His brother is young and doesn’t fully understand the consequences of his actions. The farm bosses know Seydou is Amadou’s weak spot and they exploit that weakness when they can. Seydou wants to be treated more like an equal than a baby brother. He's frustrated that Amadou doesn't see him as capable.

A girl has never been brought to the farm before and all the boys at the farm are fascinated when Khadija arrives. Khadija is different from the girls in Amadou's village. He assumes her family must be wealthy because she's well-fed and educated. He wonders how she ended up at the farm, but she isn't ready to tell her story. Khadija's defiance makes his life difficult, but they have no choice but to work together as their situation grows worse.

It hurts too much to think that, after all this work, there may be some journeys that you just never come all the way home from.

While this book isn’t extremely graphic, there is disturbing content: beatings, descriptions of bodily injury, starvation, and rape (Chapter 6, the description of what Amadou is witnessing is vague). The journey these kids embark on is terrifying. They have little food or money. They have no means of communication, so help is not just a phone call away. No one can be trusted and they have to worry about encountering wild animals. They have to come up with creative solutions to get out of terrible situations. Their survival didn't feel guaranteed at any point. Amadou has to make some very adult decisions by the end. The anxiety I felt for these characters was real. I could not stop turning the pages, yet I was also scared of what these kids would come across next.

There were a few aspects that took me out of the story. Amadou's voice didn't always feel authentic, they get lucky too many times, and it was a bit preachy in the end. There are a few flashbacks, but I wanted to learn even more about Amadou and Seydou’s life back in Mali. However, the author was successful in creating an engaging story with memorable characters that educates younger audiences about the human cost of chocolate. The author's note at the end speaks about the reality of the situation and includes a list of small actions kids can perform to make a difference. Throughout the book, the characters occasionally use common phrases from their own language and there's a glossary at the end. Most of the time it was easy to understand from context.

There are thousands of kids like us, working across the country to make a sweet for rich kids in other places. Thousands. It’s a number that matters so much I can’t wrap my mind around it.

This book sheds light on the industry practices that bring us our cheap sweets. The major chocolate companies distance themselves from the actions of the farmers, even though low compensation and lack of oversight contribute to the situation. While there are laws against child labor in many countries, over 150 million children around the world live and work without those safeguards. The Bitter Side of Sweet is a reminder of the importance of being an informed consumer. It shows how our dollars may be indirectly funding things that go against our values and actively harming our fellow man. As Sullivan writes in her author’s note, "chocolate companies cannot exist without consumer demand."

Relevant Links:
A six-minute video that shows cacao farmers taste chocolate for the first time. Also shows some of the harvesting process.
The Dark Side of Chocolate - 2010 documentary recommended by the author
List of Ethical Chocolate Companies
Chocolate: the industry’s hidden truth (and the easy stuff we can do to still enjoy it)
- This writer suggests looking for chocolate that has a short supply chain and/or purchasing chocolate that is produced in Central America and South America.


I received this book for free from Netgalley and G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. This book is available for purchase now! The audiobook is available on Hoopla, for those with libraries that subscribe.
Profile Image for Jan.
800 reviews25 followers
September 17, 2017
I love chocolate and eat some just about every day. Like most people, I never really gave much thought to where it comes from. I really had no idea. I do now, and it gives me grief to know what so many child workers, who are basically slaves, go through to harvest those cacao pods so we can all have a candy bar or a cup of cocoa, something they may never get to enjoy in their possibly short life, since most of them are beaten, starved, and overworked 7 days a week. I will keep eating chocolate, but only fair trade chocolate, produced by companies that don't use child labor, treat their workers fairly, and pay them an honest wage. This book was a definite eye opener.
Profile Image for Rory.
31 reviews3 followers
April 24, 2017
It was kind of sad, but very good!
Profile Image for Kym Moore.
Author 3 books31 followers
June 8, 2020
One has to be extremely angry, heartbroken, and sad when reading this novel. I know I certainly was. While accounts of such a story are nothing new to me, just like the conditions on the mining of blood diamonds, cocoa farms, using child slavery to harvest cacao pods without pay at remote cacao plantations in the Ivory Coast should infuriate anyone with a heart of compassion for their fellow human being.

Chocolate is one of our greatest indulgences and it's hard to find too many people who do not like it. This story is one that albeit a novel, it is a true testament of reality - child slavery. This is too prevalent and despicable. As with most situations like this, it comes down to lots of money and greed, but not for child workers. Fifteen-year-old Amadou and his younger brother Seydou wanted to make some money during the dry season to help their poor family, but this turned into a two-year, harsh, and painful experience. To make matters worse, they were never ever paid. They were tricked into backbreaking forced labor, living and working in dangerous conditions, living on little food, and with no hope for escape.

One day, for reasons they could not understand, a young girl named Khadija comes into their lives. She is the first girl who's ever come to the camp and her fiery and feisty attitude is why Amadou called her Wild Cat. She constantly attempts to escape, but Amadou tries talking her out of it and resents her for getting him and his brother Seydou whom he is trying to protect in trouble. One day, when Amadou was not there to watch over Seydou, an accident occurs which resulted in his arm having to be amputated. This nearly killed Amadou and he blames himself and even more so, he blames Khadija. Yet, one day, things changed after Khadija and Amadou have a long conversation.

The old impulse to run is suddenly awakened and the three band together as a family and try just once more to escape. They break away and jump into the back of a truck carrying the cocoa pods after setting fire to several structures to distract from their plans. They finally get away running, ducking, and hiding to make sure they do not get caught.

They finally reached Khadija's house and her mother gets a doctor to come to the house to check out Seydou's amputated arm and for the first time in their lives, they take a shower. Khadija's mother has been working on a story about the cocoa crops, but some people in the industry do not want it to get out about the child slavery they were using on the farms. This is why Khadija was taken, to keep her mother's mouth shut about the evidence she'd uncovered regarding the child slavery.

But someone was following them and now all of them have to flee to safety. Khadija's mother doesn't know what to do with Amadou and Seydou until they convince her to continue writing her story for all of the child slaves who have no one to speak for them. They tell her about their experiences on the cocoa plantation. Amadou asks Khadija's mother for one more favor, to take them to a farm that pays. She complies and takes them to a cocoa farm run by a boss named Abdoulaye. She speaks with Abdoulaye about looking out for the boys and leaves instructions on how to get in touch with her in France. It is a bittersweet goodbye between the boys, Khadija and her mother. Khadija's mother promises she would get her article published about the dark secrets behind cocoa farms and send a copy of the article to the farm for them. For the first time, Amadou refused to count things that don't matter. Seydou gets a prosthesis for his arm and flourishes in school.

This is a good read I recommend.
Profile Image for Jessie.
294 reviews
August 4, 2016
Unbelievably good book! I couldn't put it down and read into the wee hours of the morning to finish it. Such a gripping tale of two brothers forced to work on a cacao farm harvesting the cacao pods. The treatment of these kids broke my heart and I couldn't breathe at parts were punishment was about to happen. I think everyone should read this. I will certainly look at chocolate a different way from here on out.
Profile Image for Gary Anderson.
Author 1 book83 followers
June 16, 2016
Amadou and Seydou are two young Malian brothers enslaved on a cacao farm on Africa’s Ivory Coast, the origin of much of the world’s chocolate trade. When another kidnapped worker arrives, the first girl among the enslaved children, her “wildcat” tendencies challenge the overseers and lead to horrific consequences for the children.

Although clearly written for younger readers, author Tara Sullivan masterfully conveys the brutality of the children’s situation without being graphic. Terrible things happen to the main characters, but much of it happens “off stage,” which makes The Bitter Side of Sweet no less dramatic but a little more palatable. The novel reads like an adventure story with cliffhangers, near-misses, and chases, but all of it is against the backdrop of an international travesty.

Readers of all ages will come away with an understanding of what child slavery is like in Africa and why much of the world’s cocoa trade is dependent on the harsh treatment of its workers, many of them children.
Profile Image for Rachel Michelle.
67 reviews52 followers
January 5, 2016
I received a free ebook in exchange for an honest review.

"The bosses said we could leave when we'd earned out our purchase price." I add. "But they wouldn't tell me how much we owed, and in all the time we worked there, I only saw boys arrive or die, never leave when they wanted to. And we never once got paid."

This book tore me apart and glued me back together. Several times. I become attached to this book after just 50 pages and i neglected the other 3 books I am currently reading. I would definitely recommend this book to everyone.
Profile Image for Allison.
32 reviews
April 10, 2017
I had a love-hate (90% love, 10% hate) relationship with this book. The reason for hate? "The Bitter Side of Sweet" was SO sad!! I even cried once and almost cried a billion times). But, there were so many amazing things in this book. Once I would start reading, I couldn't put the book down. The story is action-packed and fast paced, with a beautiful fluency to everything, plus in-depth characters.
Profile Image for Brittany.
51 reviews4 followers
November 12, 2017
Chocolate has been one of my besties for a long time now, but this book kind of made me feel like it should be removed from my diet! Amadou and Seydou are characters who I just felt so deeply sorry for and I loved the fierceness of Khadija throughout the story. it did drag at some points and felt like it was much longer than a ten day journey but I liked how other people stepped up and brought some closure to the brothers. This one will definitely get you thinking!
17 reviews1 follower
February 26, 2019
This was an incredible book. It was about to boys named Amadou and Seydou who are brothers. They are working at a cocoa farm. They think that they will get paid but end up not getting paid. They work there for 2 years when a girl comes along. She does not want to be their like everyone else so she try's to escape. At one point Amadou and her try to escape together. This is a great story about never giving up. I would definitely recommend this book.
18 reviews
May 20, 2019
This book tells the story of a 15-year-old boy called Amadou. He lives in Africa where the only thing that mattered the most was his little brother, Seydou, and cacao pods. The harder they work, the more pods they can chop down and collect in a day, the better their chances of staying alive. But they have never gotten paid or been set free to their homes. This goes on forever until they grow weaker and weaker.

Chocolate: a wonderful treat that people eat, put in desserts, and used to make hot chocolate. Today, we have a cheap sweet which we eat thoughtlessly. It’s hard to believe that Amadou and Seydou are only fictional characters, but their stories are of which thousands of children share to produce a treat for other children half a world away. These unfortunate children end up as forced labor on a cacao plantation. Cacao comes at a terrible cost: these children can’t go to school, they are forced to carry bags that weight more than 100 pounds filled with cacao pods, they are beaten if they don’t work fast enough, they barely get food to eat, children die of weakness, and every strike of the machete to open the pods to reveal cocoa beans, has the potential to slice a child’s flesh. Today, almost 75% of the world’s cocoa is grown in Africa, with 40% of it coming from Ivory Coast alone. Some stay at the camps all the way up to adulthood.

One of the big themes in this book is trust and treating people equally as you. Even though there were tough times and conflict between the two very close brothers: Seydou and Amadou, in the end, they let go of the burden inside of them to each other while escaping.

Seydou had always been a weak little boy needy of his brother in Amadou’s heart. But Amadou never realizes until the end that Seydou is just as capable as doing things as him. Amadou always had the thought in his head that he had to take care of Seydou and make sure everything is alright with him. And when things go bad, he puts it on his shoulders and blames himself. He puts the heavy weight of regret on himself and carries it.

While they finally poured out their thoughts in the night, Seydou said, “Just because you were there when they happened doesn’t mean it’s your fault.” As Seydou sits on his heel and looks at Amadou earnestly, “his haunted face wears a serious expression.” And in Amadou’s point of view, it says, “he suddenly looks much older than eight.” Seydou then said softly, “You were always watching me make sure I didn’t get hurt. You came between me and the boys who were rough. Between me and the bosses. You took my beatings for me again and again.” His voice trembled a little bit. “I’m sorry I was so useless and couldn’t keep up better.” But Amadou replies saying, “You’re not useless. You’re the only reason I didn’t give up.” “Me too,” Seydou says.

Amadou never realized that both of them are in need of each other. To keep on going; keep on fighting. Even though that night there was no plan or guarantee of safety, he knew that they were going to be there for each other no matter what.

Another evidence of trust and not underestimating someone is when Amadou, Seydou, and Khadija, a sister like a friend who helped escape with them, needed to buy food in the market. But the problem was that they didn’t know how to shop in the market.

Surprisingly, Seydou excitedly volunteers to go the market and buy some food because he used to “tag along with Auntie when she would go shopping for us at home.” But Amadou never let him help with these kinds of things; he would be afraid of him getting hurt or harm them. Even though he “kept up with the other boys and brought you food when you were chained,” he still doesn’t trust him enough.

Unexpectedly, Seydou made Khadija awe in wonder by how smart he was after buying the food. But Amadou answered with “You’ve got to be kidding. He just paid more than the full price for three eggs to that witch over there.” He didn’t even see that Seydou picked someone who was loud and stingy so that everyone would hear that he had money and wasn’t a beggar. Then he paid a good price and was all open. He was trusting and sweet and being polite when handing her the money. Since he melted everyone’s heart in the market, he may have paid full price for those eggs but he didn’t pay full price for anything else. And sure enough, within half an hour Seydou trotted out of the market with “a bag of roasted peanuts, three hot ears of cooked corn, small papaya, and a length of sugarcane” balanced in his arms.

Amadou was definitely surprised and extremely proud of Seydou, but he also realized he had misunderstood him all this time. Sometimes in life, we underestimate someone’s ability to do something because of their age. But we have to come to the realization that we should notice the strengths in everyone and that anyone can do anything.

Profile Image for Chana.
1,575 reviews140 followers
May 19, 2019
Child slavery, working the cacao fields on the Ivory Coast. Poor farm kids from Mali looking for work, promised jobs in the cacao fields, find out they won't get paid and won't get to go home. The conditions are brutal, there is no respite, your family has no idea where you might be. Runaways are caught and beaten badly, let that be a lesson to the others. They work with pesticides with no gloves or breathing protection. They are given a minimum of food to eat. This isn't a job working in the cacao fields, this is out and out slavery. If you live through it then maybe you will be a boss in your turn, beating kids and sleeping in a house rather than a locked shed with the other kids.
Well-written and damning, very very sad.
Profile Image for Heather Lewis.
8 reviews2 followers
June 27, 2022
Such an eye opening book. The conditions that these “chocolate children” have to live in and through makes my stomach turn.
Profile Image for Marla.
381 reviews22 followers
January 18, 2016
My review (originally published at Read, Run, Ramble)

The Bitter Side of Sweet is the first and only book I read in December. Yes, you read that correctly – first AND only. I’ve been in a horribly hard to shake reading slump. For months I’ve gotten very little pleasure from the books I’ve read and just generally haven’t felt up to reading. That feeling has left me scared to pick up books because I’m worried the slump will affect how I feel about the book and I don’t want to ruin any treasures with my poor reading mood!

I am delighted to say that nothing bad came from Sullivan’s newest work! I adored Seydou, Amadou, and Kadija. These children, though fictional, depict a very real scenario taking place in our current day world. They depict modern-day slavery as it is utilized in the cacao trade. Yep, your chocolate is laced with forced child labor!

Now, that isn’t to say that Sullivan’s writing was preachy or judgmental. She is not at all. Instead she has expertly woven a fictional tale with fantastically complex and strong characters to illustrate how some cacao farmers do their business. I won’t say that readers will walk away feeling no difference in their attitude towards chocolate and how its main ingredient is obtained, but Sullivan never tries to bully the reader into feeling a certain way or doing anything drastic. She is, however, very informational, which I found eye opening and heart breaking.

The writing is rich and the story intense. The children in this book will pull you in and make you love them in no time. I actually sat down (remember, I was in the midst of one of the worst reading slumps ever) and finished in two sittings.

I was provided with an ARC of this book by the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own. I am not compensated for any of my reviews.
Profile Image for Brooke ♥booklife4life♥.
1,037 reviews87 followers
August 27, 2016

**Find this and other reviews, plus fun stuff, on my blogs! Booklikes or Blogspot**Basic Info

Pages/Length: n/a
Genre: Young Adult
Reason For Reading: Cover

At A Glance

Love Triangle/Insta Love/Obsession?:
Cliff Hanger: No
Triggers: n/a
Rating: 3 stars

Score Sheet
All out of ten

Cover: 7
Plot: 7
Characters: 6
World Building: 5
Flow: 6
Series Congruity: n/a
Writing: 7
Ending: 7

Total: 7

In Dept

Best Part:
A nicely written female side character.
Worst Part: Wasn't too clear that they were little kids... (at least for me)
Thoughts Had: Whoa chocolate!


Continuing the Series:
Recommending: Sure

Short Review: Okay, i didn't realize at the time that the MCs were CHILDREN. I thought they were like maybe in their 20's or something, this changes the book greatly! Thou the narrator has the deepest voice, so that was very confusing as well. The chocolate farms sound horrible. They had them sleeping in a shed, which i guess compared to sleeping outside, was a freaking heaven! The girl had me confused as well, if she knew how to escaped and did a few times, why come back, like i get you should be nice to others, but that place was hell, and you got out, you needed to keep running til they never found you! Not worth the risk.


Book Boyfriend: n/a
Best Friend Material: n/a
Profile Image for Agata Wilusz.
185 reviews9 followers
September 2, 2017
So many great things to mention about The Bitter Side of Sweet! First of all, I loved the relationship between brothers Amadou and Seydou, specifically how the reader can see them grow and develop over the course of the novel. They are always there for one another, as family should be!
I was very thankful that, although we learned about life on the farm, we didn't not have to endure the brutality through a first hand account. It was bad enough to imagine these things happening to children let alone any human.
This novel has definitely made me stop and think about the items I purchase and what goes into making them. I never would have thought something so delicious could have such an ugkt side.
Great read, especially for those looking to learn more about the world and experiences that are very different from their own.
6 reviews
August 17, 2017
Loved it! "The Bitter Side of Sweet" was written with such depth and eloquence that I simply couldn't put it down. The characters' emotions were represented in such a beautiful manner, so real, so rich. This book is a must read for anyone. It brings to life the struggles of kids who don't have a voice, and are so often forgotten. I didn't expect to fall into this story, but I ended up savoring every last word. "The Bitter Side of Sweet" has definitely earned its place on the Rebecca Caudill 2018 list, and among some of the best teen books.
12 reviews
November 20, 2017
The book The Bitter Side of Sweet was an eye-opener. Just one little cheap piece of chocolate can cost so much to someones lives. Amadou and his little brother Seydou are stuck in a fruit farm where they grow and pick cacao a fruit used to produce chocolate. Amadou is finding it hard to keep going as they get beatings regularly and Amadou had to take care of his little brother. Then wildcat arrives. Amadou finally realized how to save his little brother by trying something that seems impossible to him. Amadou's journey taught me to never give up and to take care of the people in need.
Profile Image for Lydia.
7 reviews
January 10, 2017
I love it! I just finished this book and I still can't get my mind off of it. Sullivan understands the human's thinking process in the best way anyone could ever understand. Then, she takes it one step further by making a book with it using lyrical and expressive writing. This book will help you understand why we fear the unknown, why we hesitate to trust, and what family and friends really mean to you.
Profile Image for Leslie Bryan.
117 reviews
October 7, 2017
Would recommend for realistic fiction lovers, those who are interested in different parts of the world, and young social activists. The story of Amadou, Seydou, and Khadijah is striking and brings to light the untold horrors of the chocolate industry. This book makes you think about the real costs of what we consume.
Profile Image for Rachel Hogan.
67 reviews5 followers
May 1, 2017
Nonfiction pair with Bitter Chocolate: Investigating the Dark Side of the World's Most Seductive Sweet
by Carol Off
Profile Image for Lucy.
170 reviews
June 16, 2018
Actual rating: 2.5 stars, but rounded down because it definitely doesn't deserve 3/5. While I can see why people like this book, I believe that it needs to be judged as a book, and not just as a lesson.

Overall Issues
loved not for being a book -- First and foremost, it pains me that this book has such a high rating on GoodReads. It has a terrifying and eye-opening story, but it's executed so poorly that how anyone thought this was an amazing book is beyond me. To me, this exact story could've been told in an article's length rather than a novel's.
target audience -- Another thing that baffles me is this book's target audience. I have no clue who this was intended for. The vocabulary and the copyright page both tell me that this book is for younger kids, probably eight to ten years old, but then there are scenes that are so grisly that it would make an adult feel queasy, and probably make a kid throw up. I know that there are people out there who would say that it's a good thing that no detail is spared from the children, but I can't help but disagree. For instance, read this passage
It's a disaster. A deep, jagged-edged gash slices down Seydou's forearm, biting through the base of his hand. I see the pulp and meat of his arm and a white thing lurking in the red of his wrist that might be bone. When Moussa pinches the two edges of skin together, blood pours out of the sides...
page 78

Seriously. SERIOUSLY. This book is for kids. I really wish that this book was pitched towards an older target audience because of moments like these.
bad editing -- this book has potential. It really does. It could have been a lot better if it had been edited better. However, this book seems to have very little editing that matters. Perhaps the editor combed through the book to check for spelling/grammar errors, but beside that, I think this book is either a first or second draft.
If you have ever been a writer, or wrote a story, or even touched a pencil, I am sure you have run into this problem. Your characters are having a conversation, and you think of two perfect replies for one to have. You, as the writer, have to choose between those two statements. In this book, there is a part where I had to go back and check that things were formatted correctly, because I thought that the writer had accidentally left in two replies for the character.
...I can't imagine living here that long."
I consider that for a moment.
"The bus drivers in Sikasso told us it would just be for a season, also," I say finally. "We didn't come here thinking we'd live here this long either.
"I hate it here too," I admit. "But the faster you get used to it, the better you'll be. You've seen what happens when you try to run away. They catch you and bring you back."
pages 109-110

Those two replies from the main character sound like two perfectly fine things to say on their own, but when they are awkwardly sewn together, it sounds clunky and unnatural. It feels like, as I said earlier, the author had two replies, and she just didn't choose between the two.
other issues -- there is very little consequence in this book. At first, I was pleased to see that, unlike in other children's books, that things seemed to hold weight.
An overall... ahem, "theme" of the book is Amadou counting the things that matter. However, for something to be a theme, they have to be used strongly throughout the book. The problem is that Amadou used it well only twice--at the beginning and at the end of the book. Yes, there are other times that he uses them in the book, but it's in such passing that it is completely unnoteworthy. Besides at the beginning and at the end of the book, I cannot think of a single memorable time that Amadou "counted the things that mattered." Another smaller issue is that Amadou occasionally calls Seydou "his little cricket." Towards the end, it becomes used extremely often. Which is fine by itself, except that for the entire middle part of the book, Amadou rarely calls him this. At the end, it's supposed to be like, "Oh yeah! That's so true! "

making this its own section because I have so many issues with the characters and I need to address them one by one.
Amadou -- the main protagonist. I see that Amadou was supposed to be a strong, brave boy, one that for which the audience could easily root. Yet, I never liked Amadou throughout the entire book. He was constantly flip-flopping between emotions, to such an extreme that I could see where the author had taken a break from writing, because Amadou would be screaming at someone one page, and then crying with them the next. I know and understand human emotions as well as anyone (after all, I am one), and half of Amadou's feelings and words felt forced. For instance...
"It was a joke," I say coldly, masking my disappointment. "I wouldn't expect help from someone as selfish as you."
page 120

Yet, eight pages ago Khadija decided, that instead of attempting to run away, she would stay with Amadou so as to not cause him more trouble. And 52 pages ago, you were nursing her back to recovery. Nothing has happened since then. I don't understand why you hate her all of a sudden.
It almost feels like that there were multiple authors working on this, much like Erin Hunter, because there are so many inconsistencies with Amadou's emotions.
Also, Amadou is so anti-women that I, being a woman, can't root for him. Even at the end of the book, he is calling Khadija a "crazy girl," which, from any other character wouldn't be as bad. But, when he had previously been calling her weak because she was a girl, it sounds extremely sexist. He never acknowledges that, hmm, maybe not all girls are weak and some can be brave and strong. But, even at the very end of this book, he doesn't realize this. He is such a static character and barely changes at all, except learning to (ughhhh) "trust people."
Khadija -- female counterpart. Also, besides her mother, the only female character in the book (unless you count Auntie, who is only mentioned in passing). I don't have as many issues with Khadija as I do with Amadou, although the reason for this is probably because the plot doesn't dedicate as much time to her. She is like Amadou in the way where the author can't quite decide who she is. One minute, she's fierce and strong, the next she's kind and soft. I'm so confused. Please. This book's characters confuse me so much.
Seydou -- Seydou is annoying. He cries 99% of the time, and is dumb and doesn't listen to the brother who has kept him safe for y e a r s on the plantation. Yet, at the end, the author tries to spin him as the stereotypical little-kid-that's-seen-so-much-that-now-they're-actually-a-lot-older-than-they-seem character. It's forced and I really hate it.
Moussa -- Again, muddled character, no idea what to feel about him. Obviously not supposed to like him, but he had a lot more character than any of the main three.
Oumar -- Best character in the book, and he's only here for about 30 pages, the majority of which he isn't even present. *sigh* Whatever.
Mother -- only thing in her character: cares about daughter more than anything, journalist. That's it.
These are the only characters that I'll review because I don't remember enough about the other ones to coherently write a review about them (despite finishing the book this morning).

Things that the book did well
I remembered the character's names. I don't know why, but that's usually a sore spot for me, so I guess that's a win?
The author has an interesting way of writing things that are happening without actually saying that they're happening. For instance:
Tears hit my hand and I glance up at her. Her eyes are dry.
page 193

This makes the book more attention-holding. It's such a pity that she didn't write the same for aspects of the characters. For instance, one part of the book, Amadou just straight up says, "I don't like trusting people." Is there no way that that could have been cleverly written in?
However, it does pass the Bechdel test.

Final Words
The book was pretty bad. Compelling story, but poorly told. If more time had been spent in the editing room, and if it didn't take SO LONG for things to start happening, then it would have been a lot better for me.
Profile Image for Kimberly.
3,883 reviews83 followers
December 14, 2018
This was an excellent and very depressing book. I thought maybe I could use this one for my 5th-8th grade book discussion, but the subject matter is pretty dark. At one point the main character witnesses the sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl and that act has repercussions through the rest of the book. Another character violently loses a limb. I had a really, really hard time listening to this one. I actually ended up checking it out three times altogether because I needed a break from the very emotional story. The kids in the book are essentially slaves, and their story is horrifying. I shared Amadou's shock when Mrs. Kablan tells him that there are thousands of boys just like him working in the cacao industry, told they are working off their price of purchase but never being allowed to leave the plantations.

The narrator of this book was excellent. I cannot stress that enough. He does an African accent beautifully and his performance was imbued with emotion. Amadou felt so incredibly real.

One positive thing: as I was buying chocolate bars for Christmas presents this year, you bet your bananas I only bought fair trade certified chocolate. I will be switching over to fair trade coffee too.
Profile Image for Erin Liles.
Author 3 books1 follower
June 2, 2018
This is a heartbreakingly lovely story about fifteen-year-old Amadou and his little brother Seydou who work in a forced labor camp harvesting cacao on the Ivory Coast. The story explores child slavery, and you will never look at chocolate in quite the same way again. The author clearly did her research, but it never overshadows the story, which is, at its heart, about the relationship of two brothers and the fiery Khadija, whom they meet at the camp and who teaches the boys about hope and courage. Despite the difficult and sometimes heartwrenching subject matter, I was left with the same feelings. The story is movingly told with so much tension, I found myself up far too late at night, unable to put the book down! And if you are as sparked as I was to do something about child slavery, visit the author’s website for some ways you can help: https://tarasullivanbooks.com/do-some...
Profile Image for Erin.
619 reviews7 followers
April 18, 2022
Amadou and his younger brother Seydou work at a cacao plantation. When Kadija, a teen girl unexpectedly turns up on the plantation, Amadou is inspired again to try to escape with his brother.

NC MBOB selection 2022-2023

I went into this one knowing nothing about it. It was a bit heart breaking. Amadou and Seydou had been kidnapped as children and forced into child slavery. The conditions they suffered were horrendous. I loved the kinship that developed between Amadou, Seydou, and Kadija. This definitely makes you think about chocolate and what it takes to have gotten it made.
Profile Image for Jennifer Mangler.
1,315 reviews13 followers
June 27, 2021
Sullivan does a good job of helping young readers understand the dark underbelly of chocolate. It's not always easy to read about the conditions the child slaves endure on the cacao plantation, but it's important that we understand where our yummy chocolate treats come from. There were moments of incredulity (A pisteur helps them? Really not likely!), and the children didn't always feel real, but overall this is a pretty good book about a very difficult topic.
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