The other night I pulled into our driveway, opened the van door, and took my half-empty bottle of water out of the cupholder and poured it onto the driveway before I even exited the van, just as I usually do. As I watched the transparent liquid make a dark spot on the concrete, I thought–what a waste. This was a new feeling for me–water is not something I’ve really ever given much thought. However, after reading A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park, I don’t think I’ll look at water the same again for a long, long time. At least I hope I don’t.
A Long Walk to Water is a true story that alternates between two protagonists, both children of Sudan. Nya’s story takes place in 2008 and is the story of a girl whose day-to-day responsibilities seven months of the year consists of making two trips a day to the pond for drinking water for her family. Park writes of the difficulty of making the trek–the heat, the thorns that pierce Nya’s bare feet, and the longing she has for education. For the remaining five months of the year, the members of Nya’s tribe live close to the pond, but this seemingly better situation has its own problems. While living near the pond, members of warring tribes often fight and kill each other, so the women of the tribes live in constant fear that their husbands and fathers will not come home.
The main story, though, is about a boy named Salva whose childhood in Sudan in the mid-1980s is permanently altered one day by civil war. Salva goes to school one day as usual, only he never has a chance to return home. For the next dozen or so years of his life, he becomes one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, traveling across Sudan by foot into Ethiopia, only to become a destitute resident of one refugee camp after another. Salva is finally adopted out of his situation and into a family in American when he is a young adult, but what he experienced during all of his growing up years makes a permanent impression on him and shapes the course of his future.
Park does an excellent job of writing this story in a simple and straightforward way. While the story of the Sudanese civil war is not a pretty one, in this book the quest for water is the pervasive theme, so the ugliness of war is softened by the focus on the individual problems of the children. There is a little bit of death by violence in the story, but not too much. I absolutely love the ending of this story–I didn’t see it coming at all, and it brought happy tears to my eyes at the beauty of how it all came together. I love that this is a true story–that Salva really exists, and that Park actually knows him.
Linda Sue Park is one of my favorite authors of juvenile literature. I’ve only ever read one of her books, but it was enough to convince me of her merit and talent as an author. Her Newbery award-winning book A Single Shard caught my imagination and heart when I read it many years ago as a library information studies student, but I haven’t run across any of her other works. When I saw A Long Walk to Water on the new books shelf at the library, I immediately added it to my stack. I’m so glad I did.
I think I’m going to start a list of potential Cybils nominees for next year, and this book will be first on the list. 🙂
Reading this book made me think of Sherry’s Books for Zambia project. Books aren’t a physical neccesity like water, I know, but surely they are a spiritual and intellectual necessity, right?
Links to Hope Is the Word reviews, etc., of books set in Africa
Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
Listening for Lions by Gloria Whelan
14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy
Interview with Thomas Gonzalez, illustrator of 14 Cows for America
The Hatseller and the Monkeys by Baba Wague Diakité
I Lost My Tooth in Africa by Penda Diakité
The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
Akimbo and the Elephants by Alexander McCall Smith