The Bitter Side of Sweet by Tara Sullivan

“When people eat chocolate, they are eating my flesh.”

I learned about child slavery in the cocoa bean industry close to a decade or so ago and was forced to change how I feed my chocolate addiction. I eat less chocolate, but appreciate it more. I wish things had changed for the better since I first became aware of the this problem, but according to research done by Tulane University, "the number of children involved in hazardous work in cocoa increased by 46% in the Ivory Coast between 2009 and 2014."

In other words, it has actually gotten worse.

This book lets you into those children's lives.

Here is the goodreads synopsis:

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.

My Thoughts:

Sullivan has crafted authentic characters trapped in horrific conditions. I connected to and cared about them right from the start. I was there with them on that farm and wanted desperately to take them away from it and keep them safe.

I believed in the developing relationship between Amadou and Khadija in spite of its inauspicious beginning. Both of these children change for the better as a result of it. I was fascinated by the relationship between Amadou, Seydou and Moussa, their slaver. It shows classic stockholm syndrome. Even though Moussa is undoubtedly brutal, Sullivan has given him a whisper of empathy that makes the strange relationship believable. It isn't until Seydou is hurt that Amadou realizes that they have to escape.

I had a hard time reading sections that show the abuse experienced by these children. However, the brutality is integral to the story and doesn't feel out of place at all. I suspect the reality of working on a farm like this would probably be much more savage.

There is information at the end of the book about child slavery and what readers might do about it.

This is a book that needs to be in school libraries. It is an important addition to books like Iqbal by Francesco D'Adamo, A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah and other titles that focus on social justice issues.

You can learn more about The Dark Side of Chocolate here:


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