Summary

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Last Updated on January 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1024

Author: Tara Sullivan

First published: 2016

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Young adult literature

Time of plot: Present day

Locale: Ivory Coast

Principal characters

Amadou, a fifteen-year-old slave

Seydou, his younger brother

Khadija Kablan, a thirteen-year-old slave

Moussa, a cacao farm supervisor

The Story

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(The entire section contains 1024 words.)

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Author: Tara Sullivan

First published: 2016

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Young adult literature

Time of plot: Present day

Locale: Ivory Coast

Principal characters

Amadou, a fifteen-year-old slave

Seydou, his younger brother

Khadija Kablan, a thirteen-year-old slave

Moussa, a cacao farm supervisor

The Story

The Bitter Side of Sweet tells the story of fifteen-year-old Amadou, who, alongside his younger brother Seydou, is forced to work on an Ivory Coast cacao plantation. Two years earlier, Amadou and Seydou, wanting to help their family, were taken to a cacao farm thinking they had been offered seasonal work. After two years of forced labor, Amadou has lost hope that he will escape the confines of that brutal place.Courtesy of Penguin Young Readers

One day, a girl named Khadija is brought to the farm. The girl's presence at the plantation surprises Amadou because there are no other girls there. Moussa, the farm supervisor, ties Khadija to a tree to prevent her from escaping. She, however, tricks Seydou into cutting her free and escapes. To prevent his brother from being beaten, Amadou takes the blame and helps Moussa recapture the girl. Afterward, Moussa gives Amadou and Khadija a beating and locks them into the toolshed without food.

Separated from his brother, Amadou worries about how Seydou will keep up with the older boys and avoid being injured or beaten for not making quota. The next day, Amadou and Khadija must work together to shell cacao pods while the other boys go out to cut more pods. To Amadou's relief, Seydou returns uninjured and has made his quota. That night, however, Amadou witnesses Khadija escape and Moussa locks him back into the toolshed before setting out after her. Amadou is woken up by Moussa and his brothers brutally beating Khadija.

The following day, Amadou and Khadija are left again to work together. Amadou is surprised when he finds four wild mangoes hidden in a sack of cacao pods. The mangoes had been hidden by Seydou hoping that his brother would find them and have something to eat during the day. Amadou picks up a mango and slices it for Khadija with his machete. Later, Seydou is carried back to camp with a serious wound on his arm. Moussa, attempting to save the arm, stitches the wound. The next day, however, the boy has a fever and the wound is infected.

Moussa decides to take care of an unresponsive Seydou while Amadou is forced to go to work. Making sure that Khadija will not escape again, Moussa chains her to Amadou and threatens to kill Seydou if Amadou lets her go. During the day, Amadou and Khadija work hard together knowing that they have to make quota. When Amadou returns to camp, however, he discovers that his brother's arm is missing and, realizing what Moussa has done, Amadou punches him in the face. Moussa beats Amadou and locks him in the toolshed for the night still chained to Khadija, but they manage to escape. Later, Amadou and Khadija sneak into the bosses' house and steal Seydou from Moussa's room while the supervisor sleeps. Moussa, however, wakes up and, while Khadija struggles with him, Amadou and his brother escape.

Amadou returns to the camp to find out what happened to Khadija. He sets the bosses' house on fire as a distraction, lets Khadija out of the toolshed, and then he sets the toolshed on fire. Rather than hiding as instructed, Seydou attempts to let the other boys out of the sleeping hut but Amadou is the one who breaks the lock. Afterward, Amadou, Khadija, and Seydou sneak into the back of a truck. The driver discovers them that night and offers them a ride to the city of Daloa. Khadija invites Amadou and Seydou to come home with her and reveals to them that she was kidnapped to keep her mother, a journalist, from writing an article about child labor.

Critical Evaluation

The first line of The Bitter Side of Sweet, "I count the things that matter," introduces the novel's point of view, its protagonist, and its theme. The narrator of the story is Amadou, a fifteen-year-old boy from Mali who is a slave on a cacao farm in Ivory Coast. The narration of the story is limited to and focused on what he feels, thinks, and knows. This allows Sullivan to develop Amadou's character and to show the reader what he learns along the way. Furthermore, by revealing the story from an individual point of view, the author aims to illustrate a greater contrast between the narrator and a likely reader, as well as a contrast between Amadou and Khadija. Amadou, for instance, cannot read and is unfamiliar with some aspects of modern technology, but Khadija teaches him simple things such as taking a picture with a cell phone. Throughout the story, the things that matter most to Amadou shift as he experiences threats to his brother's life, his escape from the farm, and finally life in safety.

This is not the first time Sullivan has written a novel about social issues in contemporary times. In 2013, she published The Golden Boy, a novel that discusses the murder of albino people in Tanzania. With The Bitter Side of Sweet, Sullivan aims to inform her audience about another problem facing contemporary society: child labor. Through Amadou, Seydou, Khadija, and the other boys working in the fields harvesting cacao pods, Sullivan describes the brutal reality of forced labor in Ivory Coast. These children are not only forced to work long hours without pay, but they are also severely punished, beaten, and food deprived. Furthermore, whether the characters are working under unsafe conditions or trying to escape the cacao plantation, their lives are in constant danger.

Further Reading

  • Rogers, Aimee. "Putting Books to Work: The Bitter Side of Sweet." International Literacy Association, 15 Sept. 2016, www.literacyworldwide.org/blog/literacy-daily/2016/09/15/putting-books-to-work-em-the-bitter-side-of-sweet-em. Accessed 16 Mar. 2017.
  • Review of The Bitter Side of Sweet, by Tara Sullivan. Kirkus, 3 Nov. 2015, www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/tara-sullivan/the-bitter-side-of-sweet. Accessed 16 Mar. 2017.
  • Review of The Bitter Side of Sweet, by Tara Sullivan. Publishers Weekly, 11 Nov. 2015, www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-399-17307-3. Accessed 16 Mar. 2017.
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