Bitter Chocolate by Sally Grindley

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Bitter Chocolate by Sally Grindley

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Eye-opener of a story for tweens about a Guinean boy working in forced labour on a chocolate plantation. Strong storytelling and excellent characterisation bring underlying issues to the fore. Recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: June 2010
Publisher: Bloomsbury
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 074759502X

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Pascal and Kojo are best friends in a place where friendship is scarce. The boys work on a cocoa plantation in West Africa, far from their families. It's brutal work overseen by brutal men and the boys labour from dawn 'til dusk, rewarded by beatings, a wooden pallet to sleep on, and a bowl of corn paste. They're always hungry and tired. Kojo tries to keep up his spirits, looking forward to the day he can take his wages home and make a difference to his family. But Pascal isn't so optimistic. He knows they'll never be paid, and he suspects they'll never be allowed to leave. He's probably right.

Pascal has good reason for such pessimism, and his story unfolds in a series of flashbacks as his thoughts turn from past to future. As he remembers the terrible events that led up to his arrival at the plantation, of the rebels that invaded the village, and the explosion that killed his father, and the drugs he was fed by the insurgents, he comes to the conclusion that there's nothing for it but escape if he is ever to find what remains of his family. But will the boys find a way?

Bitter Chocolate is a very tense book. It opens in the plantation, so we know from the beginning exactly where Pascal's flashbacks will eventually lead, but it doesn't detract from the horror of the downward spiral the little boy's life takes. And it also helps to compare the bitter, hard, aggressive person he has become with the gentle, peaceful child he once was at home in his village. So we understand when he's rude and taciturn because we are as shocked as he is at what's happened to him.

Sally Grindley is tremendously good at this sort of thing. Because she tells individual stories the underlying themes never feel didactic or reproachful. Her readers won't feel guilty about their own, much more privileged, lives. Instead, they identify with a peer in very different surroundings and come to understand the background to their lives in a vicarious way. They say there's nothing like walking a mile in another man's shoes and this is what Grindley offers her readers. And kudos to her for that, say I.


My thanks to the good people at Bloomsbury for sending the book.

They might also want to read Chalkline by Jane Mitchell, the powerful story of a child soldier in Kashmir. Lost Riders by Elizabeth Laird tells the story of the child-slave camel jockeys of the Middle East.

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Buy Bitter Chocolate by Sally Grindley at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Bitter Chocolate by Sally Grindley at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Bitter Chocolate by Sally Grindley at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Bitter Chocolate by Sally Grindley at


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