Sunday, January 2, 2011

YA Book Review: A Long Walk to Water

I suppose Linda Sue Park's A Long Walk to Water is considered a YA text because its protagonist is an adolescent and a teen throughout the bulk of the story.  Realistically, this is a true story for everyone of every age.  It speaks of perseverance as the reader experiences the remarkable life of Sudanese refugee Salva Dut who now spends half of the year raising money for his cause in the Sudan and the other half of the year supervising its implementation on site.

Torn from his family in 1985 during the civil war between the North and South, Salva walked thousands upon thousands of miles for the next eleven years.  He, along with millions of others, endured dehydration, starvation, lion attacks, crocodile attacks, along with constantly being on the watch for enemy soldiers who might harm them.  Salva spent these eleven years not knowing anything about any of the rest of his family; war had come to his life while he was at school.  All of the students ran from the school into the bush, and not towards home.

The core of the story, however, is water.

Many in the Sudan have to walk mile upon mile to fetch muddy but drinkable water.  Families in the Sudan move according to the dry and rainy seasons--they follow the water.  Children are often forced to be the bearers of the water and make the journey several times a day...every day.  Often, the water is not boiled to make it potable and the result is a digestive system overcome by worms.  Children can  not heave all that much water by themselves in one journey, yet this is the system which exists.  Because the children spend their days fetching water, they often forgo an education.

A Long Walk to Water is Salva's journey from his village in the Southern Sudan all the way to Rochester, NY and back to the Southern bring them healthy water.  Salva now raises money and builds freshwater wells all throughout the Sudan.  Moving village by village, one day at a time, he brings water which also brings opportunity.  His building of wells now allows the building of schools and medical clinics.  His bringing water close to the villages also allows all children to go to school to learn.  I give nothing away here; this is not a spoiler in the same way that everyone knows the end of Romeo & Juliet yet we still are willing to watch the play...because it is a remarkable story.

While it is true that all audiences will enjoy this story, I can anticipate the YA reader will certainly embrace this book.  If you have an 11-13 year old at home or teach middle school aged children you know that kids of this age embrace causes.  They become fascinated by fairness.  They love to help...anyone.  Whether it is by hosting bake sales or going on a fun-run or collecting canned goods, the YA crowd is curious about the vast differences, privileges, and plights which shape our world.  I can guarantee that it will take less than a minute for one of my students to gobble this book from my desk once I tell them about the book.

Kids will love this story where so much good is coming out of so much suffering.  Yet, as Salva Dut writes at the end of the book:
To young people, I would like to say: Stay calm when things are hard or not going right with you.  You will get through it when you persevere instead of quitting.  Quitting leads to much less happiness than perseverance and hope.

Put the book on your desk or book shelf...or better yet, put it in any kid's hand.  You can read more about Salva Dut's mission at his website at

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