A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park (November 2010)

“Go quickly, all of you,” the teacher said, his voice low and urgent. “Into the bush. Do you hear me? Not home. Don’t run home. They will be going into the villages. Stay away from the villages – run into the bush” (p 6).

longwalktowaterIt is 1985.  The Sudanese civil war, begun in 1983, has just reached eleven-year-old Salva’s village of Loun-Ariik. He flees with many others east, toward Ethopia. But first, they must cross war-torn Sudan, the Nile, and miles of desert.

It is 2008 in the Sudan. Nya must walk miles back and forth to the pond for water. Every day. Her sister gets sick from the dirty water and they must decide to walk to a distant doctor or let her fragile body rest and hope for the best.

Nya is a fictional character but Salva is based on the experiences of Salva Dut, who was born in the Sudan. I don’t want to say any more about his life story because I didn’t know it when I started. Linda Sue Park tells of Nya and Salva in alternating chapters. At first, they seem like separate stories, taking place years apart. But they come together so beautifully  at the end.

This is deceptively short, coming in at 128 pages but packed with a lot of punch. The war for water in the Sudan is like the war for oil in ‘developed’ countries. It is precious. Those who don’t have it, covet it. Tribes fight over control of it for generations.

Salva’s trek to various refugee camps are fraught with hardship, loss and cruelty so brutal you will rise up in your seat with concern and outrage with the inhumanity of it. Park compliments her subject perfectly with raw prose that neither exaggerate nor overly adorn. The ending contrasts the excess found in America with the want for basic needs in much of Africa.

Another contender for your Mock newbery 2011.

This is a review of an advance reader copy provided by the publisher. It is slated for release in November 2010.

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