Suspense-killing can't spoil story

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 October, 2010, 12:00am

Bitter Chocolate
By Sally Grindley
Published by Bloomsbury
ISBN 978074795021

Pascal, the central character of Sally Grindley's Bitter Chocolate, lives with his family in Guinea, in Africa. His Dad is often away, working long hours in a diamond mine, but Pascal's life is full. He doesn't have much time to worry about things outside his village, but recently he has heard about fighting going on in neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Bitter Chocolate opens on a cocoa plantation, and we soon meet Pascal and his friend Kojo. They are part of a gang of youngsters who have been forced to work in the fields. Chapters alternate between Pascal's terrible life on the plantation and his life in his village. This structure kills the suspense, because we learn that something terrible has happened to Pascal's homeland and taken him away from his family.

As soon as we start reading, we know where the flashback chapters are going. This distracts from the tension Grindley builds in the village chapters. Pascal is for the most part unaware of any approaching dangers, but Grindley reveals all to the reader.

After a few chapters in the cocoa plantation with its cruel supervisors and appalling living conditions, the story moves towards Pascal escaping. He is desperate to find his family. Will he make it home? And what will he find there if he does?

Bitter Chocolate is about people and Grindley doesn't let the issues she is raising cloud the story too much. A short, informative and thoughtful read.