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Children's Fiction Orphans & Foster Homes

Bitter, Sweet

by (author) Laura Best

Nimbus Publishing
Initial publish date
Sep 2009
Orphans & Foster Homes
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Sep 2009
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2009
    List Price

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Where to buy it

Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 12 to 15
  • Grade: 5 to 9


“Pru Burbidge lives a simple life on the family homestead on Dalhousie Road in 1940s rural Nova Scotia- until her father abandons the family and her mother falls ill. Her life is turned upside-down by these events, and she is forced to take on the role of primary caregiver to her siblings, Jessie, Flora, and Davey. Things go from bad to worse when Pru's mother dies, leaving Pru and Jessie, her older brother, to care for the family in secret so they are not separated and sent away to foster homes, or worse- the orphan house. Pru and Jessie do everything they can to hide the fact that their mother has passed away and keep the family together, but their situation becomes increasingly dire as their money and food supplies begin to run out and their neighbours start getting suspicious. When the situation comes to a head and they are on the verge of being found out, Pru and her siblings must work together to save their family from being torn apart.

About the author

Laura Best has had over forty short stories published in literary magazine and anthologies. Her first young adult novel, Bitter Sweet, was shortlisted for the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People. Her middle grade novel Flying with a Broken Wing was named one of Bank Street College of Education's Best Books of 2015, and it's follow-up, Cammie Takes Flight, was nominated for the 2018 Silver Birch Award. Her most recent middle grade book, a prequel to the Cammie series, The Family Way, will be released in Spring 2021. Her first novel for adults, Good Mother Don't, was published in 2020. She lives in East Dalhousie, Nova Scotia, with her husband, Brian. Visit

Laura Best's profile page

Librarian Reviews

Bitter, Sweet

In the late 1940s, Pru Burbridge’s father, an angry and bitter man, takes his wife and four children away from their home and family in Annapolis, Nova Scotia, to a secluded ramshackle house in Dalhousie. Still unable to support the family and in the thrall of his life’s misfortunes, he abandons them.

Bitter, Sweet is narrated by Pru, the eldest daughter but little more than a child herself. Pru is charged with the care of their dying mother, her siblings’ wellbeing and the family’s secrets. The father’s twisted truths and vengeful beliefs have poisoned Jesse, the 14-year-old son, and this leads to misunderstanding and a series of frightening events in their lives.

Taught to be mistrustful of neighbours and fearful of government interference, Pru and Jesse hide the fact of their mother’s death by isolating themselves from the community and forging their mother’s signature on welfare, and newly introduced baby bonus cheques. In this way, they hope to escape the orphan house and foster homes and keep the family together, as commanded by their dying mother Issy. Well-meaning adults eventually uncover the children’s ruse which results in a tense, suspenseful showdown between community and RCMP and the children, championed by Jesse.

Issy has not only entrusted Pru with family secrets and the means to misdirect the community, but has also shared with her the knowledge of family herbal remedies and her grandmother’s ability to transcend death in order to comfort the living. As Pru remembers all that her mother taught her, and experiences herself the spiritual presence of someone gone before, she gains personal strength and only then is she able to take charge and shepherd her siblings to physical and emotional safety.

Author Laura Best brings alive her characters with deft scenarios and interesting dialogue. This book is well written and provides a glimpse of post-war 1940s community life and social services.

Source: The Canadian Children's Bookcentre. Fall 2010. Volume 33 No. 4.

Bitter, Sweet

Dalhousie Road is in a secluded part of rural Nova Scotia where people keep to themselves and where Pru Burbridge and her family decide to settle. When Pru’s father takes off and her mother dies, she and her older brother, Jesse, must care for their younger siblings so they are not taken away. Sometimes that means taking drastic measures!

Source: The Canadian Children’s Book Centre. Best Books for Kids & Teens. 2011.

Other titles by Laura Best