Summary: The Burbidge family have each other, and after being abandoned by their father and the illness of their mother, their bond is stronger than ever. After their mother dies, Jesse, Pru, and their younger brother and sister struggle to keep her death a secret from noisy neighbours and the law so they can stay together. An unexpected return further complicates things and ultimately results in a showdown between Jesse and the RCMP, leaving the Burbidge children to decide who they can and cannot trust.
Number of Pages: 144
Age Range: 13-14
Review: Bitter, Sweet. Apt title. With all of the bitter hardship the Burbidge family endures, Laura Best weaves in truly sweet moments filled with joy. The title is beautiful in its simplicity and revealing of the book’s contents at the same time.
As for the book itself, I was enchanted by Bitter, Sweet. Four children abandoned by their father are now dealing with their mother’s terminal illness, struggling to keep their family together before and after she dies. They make mistakes, but their motives are pure. All they want is to stay together.
But it’s complicated. Caught up in memories of their father and mother’s views and experiences, Jesse and Pru are left to determine what was real and what wasn’t, as well as who is truly worthy of their trust.
Interwoven into this tale is a thread of mysticism, as mother and daughter Pru are both connected to the spirit of their Mi’kmaq ancestor. When Pru’s mother dies, Pru finds herself able to still communicate with her, especially in timely moments when she needs her the most.
My favourite part of the book though is the character of Pru’s mother. She instils in her children self-reliance and pragmatism to keep their feet on the ground, but also gives them wings to soar with through their imaginations, dreams and hopes for the future. She can make a celebration out of almost anything, encouraging her children to look for the good in life among the bad even after she dies. I loved her.
Bitter, Sweet is a vibrant read set in 1948 that I thoroughly enjoyed. Recommended for early teen readers and suitable for a classroom setting.
“They looked like Ballerina slippers, and for a brief moment I pretended that they were magical and perhaps had the power to make Mama well again. It was a silly thing to pretend, but Mama always said that some days it was hard enough to live with what is, let alone ignoring what could be.” – Pru from Bitter, Sweet by Laura Best, page 15
“‘The world is filled with many strange things, so many that you couldn’t count them all even if you wanted to. But it’s not the knowing of everything there is in the world so much as it is the imagining of all there could be,’ she said. I wasn’t sure I knew what she meant, but her words seemed to bring me comfort.” – Pru remembering words from her mother from Bitter, Sweet by Laura Best, page 66
“‘Things aren’t always the way they seem to be on the outside,’ I said to Jesse, sharing in his disappointment at Daddy’s behaviour. I knew Jesse was right – Daddy owed us some sort of explanation. But part of me couldn’t help but wish these past two years away, pretend like they had never happened. How much easier that would be.” – Pru from Bitter, Sweet by Laura Best, page 77
“There was something different about Mama that last night and sometimes I think I should have known. But what you really know and what you just think you know are two different things.” – Pru from Bitter, Sweet by Laura Best, page 99
“…dreams are what tell us we’re alive. Sometimes you just need to have a dream, some way to keep you going.” – Pru’s mother from Bitter, Sweet by Laura Best, page 103