Thursday, 17 March 2011

A Long Walk to Water

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park (UQP)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN: 9780702238703
Reviewed by Jo Burnell

How do you let children experience the devastation of war without overwhelming them? Is it possible to be immersed in the realities of desert life when you’ve never had to go thirsty? Linda Sue Park masterfully combines facts with a spellbinding yarn to achieve both these goals. Although her two main characters are fictional, their stories are a blend of many real life experiences.

Salva and Nya live in the same land, 23 years apart. Their stories are carefully juxtaposed, with moments of high drama triggering the switch between stories. It takes a unique skill to draw the reader on at such critical points, rather than put them off reading altogether. Linda Sue Park is such a master.

Salva is told to run as war visits his homeland in 1985. Being a boy forces his flight. It’s the only way he can avoid being enlisted as a child soldier. However, Salva doesn’t know what has happened to his family and he can’t return to find out. His journey takes him from Southern Sudan across desert, over a great river to Ethiopia and, years later, back through the same lands and into Kenya. Starvation and exhaustion hem him in on one side, while strangers with guns threaten on the other.

Because she is a girl, Nya’s fate in 2008 is to fetch water every day. Her daily journey across thorns and rocky paths takes hours each way. There is no chance for learning other skills. The family needs her water to survive.

Page by page, Salva’s and Nya’s worlds draw closer until they finally meet in real time. Salva returns to his homeland with an amazing gift, thus freeing Nya to dream of a different world.

A Long Walk to Water is one of the most captivating books I have ever read. The dramatic story structure melds difficult facts and horrific details into a palatable, easy read for children. A Long Walk to Water is sure to find a permanent place in school and home libraries alike. If there is only one book you read this year, let it be A Long Walk to Water.
Jo Burnell is passionate about hooking reluctant and struggling readers into the world of books. Her current project looks at Juveniles in Jail today which aims to open doors to the Juvenile Justice System through a combination of Facts, Fictional Play Scripts and Faction. 

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