Sacred Leaf
by Ellis, Deborah

After being taken in by a family of coca farmers, Diego is devastated when the army threatens to destroy the only source of income they have and so works to stop the army and save the people he has come to love.

Having escaped cocaine processors in the Bolivian jungle, 12-year-old Diego finds a temporary home with a family of small farmers, who join a country-wide protest after their coca crop is confiscated. This second novel in the Cocalero series makes clear the importance of coca in Bolivia's rural economy, the farmers' grinding poverty and hard work, and the hardship caused by attempts to wipe out this traditional crop. Although her sympathy with the protesters is clear, Ellis shows admirable and less admirable characters on both sides, and she leaves the door open for further episodes. Copyright 2008 Booklist Reviews.

Bolivians have long consumed coca leaves, the raw ingredient in cocaine, as a mild stimulant tea to minimize the effects of hunger and altitude sickness. In this fast-paced addition to her series about cocaleros, Bolivian subsistence coca farmers, Ellis continues to follow Diego, 12, and others caught up and mangled in the global war on drugs. At the end of I Am a Taxi (2006), Diego found sanctuary with a family of cocaleros. Soon the Bolivian army arrives and destroys the family's crops and livelihood. Bereft, they join a cocaleros' protest. Tension builds as angry families, including infants and the elderly, blockade a highway and face down an increasingly frustrated army. Diego is torn between supporting the farmers and longing to return to his own family in Cochabamba. Ethical issues are conveyed powerfully, but without preaching. Characters on both sides-an army captain, torn between job and support for his community, reckless young radicals in search of excitement-are vividly rendered. Humor leavens the mix. An exciting story that confronts young readers with a very different kind of childhood. (Fiction. 10-14) Copyright Kirkus 2007 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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