A Taste of Salt

by Frances Temple. (HarperTrophy, 1992 ISBN 0-06-447136-5) Novel. Grades 5+.
This review by Carol Otis Hurst first appeared in Teaching K-8 Magazine.


For a topical novel that you can't put down, try A Taste of Salt with your upper elementary and middle school students. Also available in hardcover from Orchard, this novel, set in Haiti, is the winner of the Jane Addams Children's Book Award. Here we find Djo at the same time Jeremie does. He's in tough shape having been beaten almost to death by the Tonton Macoute. Jeremie, a comparatively well-to-do convent girl, has been sent by Aristide to talk to Djo, give him a reason to live and get his story on tape. Jeremie's political eyes are just beginning to open and Djo's story opens them very wide indeed. A child of the streets, turning to crime as a means of getting food, Djo was taken in by Aristide who made a family of these street ruffians and outcasts.

Just as fortune appeared to be smiling on Djo, he was kidnapped and taken to the Dominican Republic for slave labor in the Dominican Republic. It took him several years to find the will, the means and the courage to escape his captor but he did and returned to Haiti to find that Aristide's role had changed from parish priest to a candidate for president in Haiti. Overjoyed citizens arrive at the poles only to be massacred by the generals and the Macoute. Still Aristide's gentle words make themselves heard. Djo and the other young men and women were out in the streets again this time spreading the Aristide way of making political change. Then the final beating and Djo's tentative hold on life.

As Jeremie hears Djo's story she falls in love with him, only telling her own story when Djo lapses into a coma. The ending is hopeful. The information is strong and should lead to some further research about Haiti and some discussion about the role of politics in our own society as well as in Haiti. The title comes from a legend of the zombies who mindlessly slave for their masters until and unless they have a taste of salt. This makes them aware of their condition whereupon they rebel. For these boys, the first taste of salt is learning to read. Food for thought?


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