________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 37. . . .May 27, 2016



Winnie Mack.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2016.
212 pp., pbk., html & Apple, $8.99 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4431-4602-9 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4431-4603-6 (html), ISBN 978-1-4431-4604-3 (Apple).

Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.

Review by Mary Harelkin Bishop.

**** /4



When Dr. Vincent told me I could go home, I was so happy. I could have eaten a whole plate of green beans without even flinching. At the same time, I was working up the nerve to ask him the most important question of all, though I was terrified of what he might say.

“So,” I finally said, once I was dressed in my own clothes and ready to leave. “I was just wondering…”


“Can I play soccer?” My voice cracked on the last word.

He shook his head. “Not yet, Samantha.”

My heart sunk. “When?” I asked, afraid that he was going to say never. What would I do then?

“We’ll have to see how things go,” he said, giving me a pat on the back.
I almost started crying, but I bit my bottom lip and held it in. I glanced over at Mom, who tried to smile.

“I’m going to refer you to a diabetes centre near your home. Dr. Elliott is a friend of mine who works there.” He waited until I made eye contact. “She’ll talk to you about playing soccer.”

I tried to imagine my life without practices and games to look forward to. I thought about my teammates, and how much I loved hanging out with them.

I tried to picture myself stuck on the sidelines, no longer part of the team.

And I couldn’t.

Soccer was my life.

Soccer was my life.

Now diabetes is my life.


Samantha, 12, lives for soccer. She can’t imagine life without being able to play the game, and her greatest wish is to be the captain of her soccer team, the Strikers. Everything is going wonderfully well for Sam, but she finds that she is incredibly thirsty all the time. She is also losing weight, and, to her horror, she is wetting the bed. Too embarrassed to talk about it, Sam throws her good sheets in the garbage rather than tell her parents. When Sam almost collapses on the soccer field, she is rushed to the hospital. After a series of tests, it is discovered that Sam has Type I diabetes, an illness for which there is no cure. Overnight, Sam’s life changes. Now she must have her blood tested and be given shots of insulin. Her diet is also very much under scrutiny.

     Winnie Mack, the author of Bittersweet, does a wonderful and realistic job of portraying a young girl’s struggle with diabetes. Written in the first person, the beginning few chapters have Sam discounting health issues, such as dizziness and constant thirst, which are symptoms of diabetes. Once Sam realizes she has this condition, she is in denial as she refuses to give herself blood tests and shots, even though she is 12-years-old. She leaves it up to her parents – mostly her mother – to test her blood, give her insulin and change the eating habits of the whole family.

     Sam has two younger sisters and a teenaged brother. These characters react as normal siblings would. The young girls take Sam’s condition as normal and adjust very quickly to the changes in the family. The older brother, Aiden, suddenly alienates himself from Sam. He is angry about having Sam’s medications taking up so much cupboard space in the kitchen, and he’s upset about having to curb his own sugar intake. Several of Sam’s friends on the soccer team also begin to avoid her, and Sam is hurt and confused. She is also worried that she won’t ever be able to play soccer again, and she is sure she will never be chosen as captain of the Strikers.

     Through Sam, the reader has a close look at how diabetes changes the lives of the person with the condition as well as how family and friends react. The situations are realistic, and everyone’s reactions are authentic as well. Mack does a great job of explaining medical terms, such as diabetes, insulin, and pancreas, in an understandable way through Sam’s thoughts and words. The dangers and scariness of diabetes are not sugar-coated (forgive the use of a pun). The family is trained in emergency response for Sam, even though Aiden is reluctant to participate. When Sam decides she can wait to eat so that she can have a sugar-filled snack at the end of the day, she has a seizure. Her little sisters save her life by giving her an emergency injection from ‘Big Red’ and calling 911, and Sam learns a serious life lesson.

     Sam is a survivor and an overcomer. As a strong character, she reinitiates contact with her hesitant teammates and confronts Aiden about his perceived anger toward her. It turns out that they all just don’t know how to treat Sam anymore, and Sam quickly shows them that, although she has diabetes, she will not be defined by the condition. In the end, because of Sam’s courage in dealing with diabetes, she is given the title of captain of the Strikers. It is a fitting end to a great book.

     I highly recommend Bittersweet. With its realistic portrayal of diabetes and its authentic and strong characters and convincing plot, it is a great read!

Highly Recommended.

Mary Harelkin Bishop is the author of the “Tunnels of Moose Jaw Adventure” series published by Coteau. She has also published a biography about Canadian Paralympic Champion Colette Bourgonje, entitled Moving Forward and a picture book version called Gina’s Wheels. Currently she is an Instructional Consultant for Saskatoon Public Schools.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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