Sarah's Stars

Deborah Ellis. Sacred Leaf
Groundwood $9.95  ISBN 978-0-88899-808-8  207 pg.
Reviewed by Lindsey, Age 14

Diego banged at the truck, denting the metal. He kept swinging even as the soldiers dropped their cigarettes and came after him, not caring who or what he hit.

There were shouts and curses as the soldiers tried to grab him and were hit in the face, legs or chest. Finally they attacked him as a group, and took him down.

Diego hit dirt, face first. It got up his nose and into his eyes. He could hear the Ricardos yelling. Even Bonita was cursing the soldiers for hurting him. But the soldiers didn't care. They held down and yanked back his arms, winding twine so tightly around his wrists that his hands began to burn and then lost sensation. He tasted dirt and blood and felt the weight of men kneeling on his back.

"Your son is under arrest," the sergeant said. "He assaulted my men."

It's hardly even been a week since Diego escaped the evil men who were using him to crush coca leaves so it could be made into the deadly drug cocaine, and yet the small boy is already in danger again. After leaving the head of the operation to die in the jungle, Diego stumbled his way onto the Ricardos' farm, a quaint field of coca leaves and a tightly knit family. But the corrupt soldiers of Bolivia are trashing farms and stealing the sacred coca leaves. In a frenzied haze of anger Diego attempts to stop the soldiers by beating their truck with a baseball bat. Without even a time to say goodbye, Diego is whisked away from the kind Ricardos, thus making his hopes of returning home to his parents in Cochabamba seem almost impossible.

In Bolivia, there is a change. An uprising of hope and pride as the coca farmers take action. Soon almost the entire town is taking part in the roadblock, a haphazard wall of junk in front of a bridge, and a crowd of strong people who refuse to be defeated. But soon enough, things go awry. As violence escalates around him, Diego isn't sure if he'll even survive to attempt a journey home. Will the boy ever fulfill his dream of returning to his parents as someone they can be proud of?

Picking up right where I Am a Taxi left off, we are introduced to the new characters, the Ricardos, especially Bonita and her spicy temper. The story centers more on the protest against the government and less on the plight of Diego, which I actually found a nice change from the previous novel, and lends the series a bit more perspective on the Bolivian government. The story, while straying towards some meaty subjects like drugs and protests still remains elusive enough for younger readers to enjoy the tale. It is an introduction to the story of a beautiful country and an oppressed people, all while remaining decidedly hopeful. Deborah Ellis does a wonderful job of taking some very real horrors and fabricating a tale for children that will open their eyes to what goes on in the world without making them cry themselves to sleep. It opens doors for further exploration into the subject all while providing us with an interesting, easy-to-read story. Diego's adventure will touch hearts, keep you reading, and most of all, inspire you to help. I, for one, am most definitely keeping my eye out for the next installment in the Cocalero Novels.

I give Deborah Ellis' Sacred Leaf four stars.


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