From the Publisher
Winner of the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Award, 2007
A SSLI Honor Book, 2007
Long-listed for the YALSA BBYA, 2007
the strength of the book lies in the glimpse of a single individual struggling to exist in a society with limited options for escape." Horn Book, starred review
"Vivid details and a thrilling plot will keep older children and teens engaged in this highly-accessible, realistic storyline." Reforma
"This is not your usual teen storyline
an excellent story that will appeal to any readers who feel trapped by their lives
The characters are well-drawn and realistic." Library Media Connection
Children's Literature - Denise Daley
Most young adults cannot imagine what life behind bars is like, but twelve-year-old Diego can barely remember life before bars. When he was a young boy his family was unfairly blamed for a crime they did not commit. As a result, Diego's mother is raising him and his baby sister in the prison where she is incarcerated. Diego is a smart and hardworking young person who dreams of a better life for him and his family. Unfortunately, dreams are not enough, especially for a young, poor, uneducated, South American boy whose parents are in jail. A friend of Diego's offers him an opportunity to become rich. Just two weeks of work and he could earn hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars. Diego is skeptical but the lure is more than he can resist. He soon finds himself being treated worse than an animal as he is forced to stomp on coca leaves to create a base that is used for cocaine. Even worse, he learns that his employer has no intention of paying him or letting him go. This moving story will have readers on the edge of their seats as they root for Diego. Additionally, readers will learn about the Bolivian culture and about the strife and struggles that sometimes confront other countries. This book is part of the "Cocalero Novels."
VOYA - Lois Parker-Hennion
For twelve-year-old Diego and his family, home is a prison in Bolivia where his parents, who were wrongly convicted of drug possession, are serving long sentences. Diego lives mostly with his mother and little sister but occasionally visits his father in the nearby men's prison. Like the other older children, he can come and go, and he attends school every day and walks to the market to sell his mother's hand-knitted goods. He also works as a "taxi," running errands for other prisoners, which helps to earn the money needed to pay for the cell and other commodities in the prison. His friend Mando convinces him that it is time to make big money, and soon the boys are deep in the jungle, working as virtual slaves in an illegal cocaine operation. Mando dies trying to escape, but Diego eventually finds a safe haven with a campesino family. Ellis artfully describes the horrible conditions in the overcrowded prison, the street children who sniff glue, and the backbreaking labor-often performed by children-to make the paste that will eventually become crack cocaine. In an author's note, she explains the difficulties experienced by the farmers of Bolivia who have been growing coca for centuries but who now find themselves caught in the vicious cycle of the crack cocaine drug trade and the unintended consequences of "war on drugs." A glossary serves to further explain unfamiliar Spanish and indigenous language. This unusual coming-of-age novel describes a life where, for a boy like Diego, the illegal drug trade seems to be the only game in town. Readers can look forward to a sequel.
KLIATT - Maureen Griffin
The author, who writes about the treatment of children in poor countries, dedicates this Cocalero novel "To those we keep in cages." Twelve-year-old Diego is in the San Sebastian Women's Prison, Cochabamba, Bolivia, along with his mother and young sister. Families without much money to bribe guards languish for years for insignificant crimes. Diego can leave during the day, sometimes, to run errands for a small amount of moneyhe calls himself a taxi. His friend Mando, a little older, also looks for any job. The two are lured into working far from home in the cocaine trade. Diego is fortunate to escape after abuse, long labor, exposure to caustic chemicals, and a brief introduction to the drug. Sacred Leaf will be the sequel to Diego's adventures following his caring rescue by a rural family. This book should be in junior and senior high school libraries. The story is gripping, well written, and informative. It will attract reluctant readers and still please those who read more widely. The Author's Note explains the unique place of the coca plant in Bolivian culture; the glossary is helpful as well.
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Ellis's novel attempts to expose the strains that cocaine production and trade and the U.S "War on Drugs" have placed on Bolivians. Diego's parents have been wrongfully incarcerated for drug smuggling. While they serve their 16-year sentences, the 12-year-old, who would otherwise be homeless, lives in the women's prison with his mother and younger sister. He earns money as a "taxi," running errands in the city for the prisoners. One day his friend convinces him that they can make easier money working for men who turn out to be involved in cocaine manufacturing. The boys are enslaved in the jungle, Diego's friend dies, and Diego barely escapes with his life. This harrowing part of the narrative is somewhat rushed and is less convincing than the rest. Nonetheless, because of its unusual setting and subject matter, and Ellis's efforts to explicate complex social, political, and economic issues, this book should find a place in larger collections.-Miriam Lang Budin, Chappaqua Public Library, NY Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.