Akwaeke Emezi

Fiction 2022 | 264 pages


After a tumultuous childhood in foster care, Bitter, 17, is invited to attend Eucalyptus, a special school where she can focus on her painting, surrounded by other creative teens. But outside the residential school, the streets are filled with protests against the deep injustices that grip the city of Lucille.  Lucille is a hotbed of racial violence, though Bitter, Black herself, like many of the kids at Eucalyptus, is tempted to stay inside the safe walls of her school.  She is, however, pulled in multiple directions among her friends, her passion for painting, and a new romance.  Bitter isn’t sure where she belongs—in the studio or in the streets. And if she does find a way to help the revolution while being true to who she is, at what cost?

This young adult novel is being read by the Decolonization book club I used to be a member of.  It explores youth, protest, art, values, innocence, friendship, trust, truth.  It also has an engaging and fantastical component of magic, that is first introduced to us through Bitter’s art as a young child.

Many of the characters in Bitter have remarkable names like Bitter, Aloe, Blessing, and Hibiscus. The author tells us this in an homage to Toni Morrison.

It is a timely novel and is quite riveting.  Bitter and her friends are simply irresistible characters.  Sometimes I really like reading YA novels ... there is a freshness to them that is not always found in adult serous novels addressing similar topics.  (I have two more on my shelf right now!)  Yes, I recommend Bitter.  I believe it will cause you to think.

April 2023