Surviving the Sudan….Book Review: A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

Nya:
Going was easy.

Going, the big plastic container held only air. Tall for her eleven years, Nya could switch the handle from one hands to the other, swing the container by her side, or cradle it in both arms. She could even drag it behind her, bumping it against the ground and raising a tiny cloud of dust with each step.

There was little weight, going. There was only heat, the sun already baking the air, even though it was long before noon. It would take her half the morning if she didn’t stop on the way.

Heat. Time. And thorns. (Park, p. 1)

Salva:
Every breath Salva took seemed to drain strength rather than restore it.

Thorns gored his feet. His lips became cracked and parched. Uncle cautioned him to make the water in his gourd last as long as possible. It was the hardest thing Salva had ever done, taking only tiny sips when his body cried out for huge gulps of thirst quenching, life-giving water. (Park, 53)

I’m going to open this post up with an immediate statement: Never have my eyes been so open to experience of those in other countries. I opened with these two excerpts, because they scratch the surface of the hardships Nya, living in the Sudan in 2008, and Salva, living in the Sudan in 1985, faced in their journies for survival.

Set in alternating time period, Salva and Nya both have different experiences in the Sudan. Salva is an eleven year old boy forced to flee his school after soldiers attack his schoolhouse during the Sudanese Civil War. The course of Salva’s experience is gut wrenching. From being forced to flee into the “bush” as they refer to it to having to make some tough decisions as a young boy, this is truly THE coming of age story. Prior to reading this, I didn’t know much about the Sudan or the war it faced from 1983-2005.

Intermingling with Salva’s dialogue is the story of a young girl Nya who walks miles each day to fetch water for her family. During the dry season, when the pond Nya walks to dries up, she and her family are forced to live by a big lake that is also dry. The method by which Nya retrives just a little water during this 5 month period is almost worse than walking miles and miles twice a day. Dig and dig and dig for just a cup or two of water. And the water is so scarce, but so contaminated, to not die of dehydration may mean you die of dysentery.

The story primarily focuses on Salva as he escapes the Sudan in pursuit of a refugee camp in Ethiopia. Salva has to cross deserts, lion country, the Nile River, the Gilo river, and much more to find his freedom. The dialogue and narration of Salva is extremely easy to read and reads like an eleven year old boy would talk. This is based on Salva’s real life experience. This made it more emotionally taxing as you read it. I was immediately sucked into his story. With so much at stake and no one to see that he made it safely, I quickly became Salva’s champion. I felt that each page I read would bring Salva’s freedom and safety closer and closer.

Nya’s story turns around when strange men come to her village one day with drills and tools and are inspecting the ground. Nya spends time being confused over the men’s actions, but the gift they give this Nuer tribe is critical. I didn’t realize the impact water could have on uplifting a community until I met these men. Water means life. I found as I was reading this book with a giant 30oz bottle of water in my hand that was cold and freshly filled how different our definition of “poverty” and “without” is in the United States.

The end of the book filled my heart with every warm cookie every baked. Eventually, these two characters, traveling in different times in Sudanese history find their stories connecting at the end of the novel. Salva, now a college educated business man, has some miraculous experiences at the end of the novel. He becomes his own champion and finds unlikely answers to the loss of his family and culture in the Sudan after his escape. He also finds a way to ensure that his people are being helped. Little by little, Salva tells his story to help his people.

I highly recommend this book to anyone that wants a quick, memorable, life changing read. This is one of a kind book. Park did an impeccable job telling Salva’s story. I can only imagine how proud he was to read this. I am not sure why I put off reading this book so long. The craft of her writing to also blend a real life account with a fictional character set her apart as a writer. As I read, I also felt the limited language of the tribe and how they perceived the world around them in terms of their tribe’s history and customs.  Set your comics books aside—We have a real life superman.

Rating:  Owls
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Why I loved it:
I loved this book for so many reasons. Mainly, the experiences both character went through, particularly Salva, were gut wrenching. Sitting in my classroom, looking at students who are fed and sheltered and that can go get water, I have a new appreciation for agencies that build wells and schools and provide health care to third world countries. It also floored me that people live like this. You see the commercials on TV, but I think reading someone’s testimony is like meeting them in person. There is no background music or celebrity urging me to spend $19/month. It is me, Park, Salva, Nya, and the $6.99 that was spent on the book. It made my experience as a reader so much more personal to get to the end of the novel and find out this was a 90% true account of this man’s life.

Why the kids loved:
I had one student write on an assignment, “I am not like Nya because I can go to the kitchen for water and don’t have to walk.” The kids like it because it opens their eyes to a new way of life, something that in my small town in Virginia, they have probably never talked about or been exposed to. It’s also a quick read and they feel successful.

Quick and Dirty, 160 Character Review:
Gripping, Compelling, Visceral, Eye Open, READ IT!

Image from barnesandnoble.com

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Happy Reading! I hope you enjoyed my review and my students’ reviews!

-Miss Wyoming

Book Review: In the After by Demitria Lunetta

Have you ever been really curious as to what would happen if aliens invaded Earth? I can’t say I was until I read this book. It was recommended to me by a co-worker that I trust in her book taste and then again by my school’s librarian. Set in the not-so-far-off future of the United States, Lunetta’s debut novel, In the After, is a strong introduction into life after the apocalypse.

The main character, Amy, splits her life into two separate parts–The Before and The After. The book jumps pretty quickly into the After portion. We get a glimpse into her life before–Mom has a max-security clearance job with the government and Dad is an environmentalist hippie. Amy is just your run of the mill everyday, average teen. Until They show up one day while she’s watching the news.

As I was reading the beginning of this book, I kept thinking “There is no way this is going to be like, 400 and some pages. All the action is happening now!” Within the first 50 pages, we meet Them (the pea green, human flesh craving aliens that have come to Earth), Amy finds a baby she names Baby in a supermarket, and there are some pretty near death experiences. Initially, this instant set up with jarring to me—I felt like the climax of the story happened every couple of pages, but as I neared the end of section 1, it made more sense.

Commence section two–Amy and Baby have been living for three years together in the dark, in silence. It was pretty convenient, in terms of alien attacks, that Amy’s dad had built a rooftop garden, installed solar panels, and constructed a rainwater shed water system so the girls had power, food, and running water the whole time. This is the only major detail I disliked in the book. Amy and Baby are forced to leave their home (I cannot tell you why, but it does contribute to a major twist ending) and are picked up by black clad figures that initially seem to be more aliens. The girls learn that they are not and are taken to a place called New Hope, a university that survived the alien attacks formerly known as Husten-Prime.

In my humble opinion, this is where things got a wee bit hairy for me. Things start to pick up at bit in this section. Amy meets a strapping young lad that, despite any major romantic gestures or relationship development on Lunetta’s part, is taken by Amy within 50 pages of meeting her even though she has an ugly hair cut. There are also a set of doctor’s that are out to protect the community at any cost and there is a weird group of teenagers that are allowed to sit all day and think about ways to make New Hope better.

Then…..in my opinion, it happens. The story magically shifts to italic fonts. It’s clearly Amy speaking, but readers do not know where she is or what she is doing. Then it switches back. It does this for a lot of the section. It gets pretty old after a while, I will admit. At first it’s intriguing–Amy is going on about doctors testing her brain, she is drugged, etc. After a while though, I got to the point where I’m like JUST FREAKING TELL ME ALREADY WHERE SHE IS! It does tell you (in section 3).

The book goes on to follow Amy in her discovery of the mysteries of New Hope and her decision to become a guardian, which ultimately separates her from Baby. I haven’t spent much time on the relationship between Amy and Baby, but it’s really important to both this book and the next book. Amy would die to save Baby or kill anyone to save her. As her only companion for 3 years in silence during the apocalypse, I understand the attachment complete. Lunetta really established this and you come to love Baby. She’s innocent and sweet, but smart and has really uncanny hearing. Amy is painstakingly pulled away from Baby as she becomes a Guardian, a position that allows her to fight Floraes and avoid the law that states all women are to have babies every three years until they are 40—ew, gross, I know.

I can’t reveal too many details about section three, but this is where the weird narration and the regular story meet back up. You really are going to hate Doctor Reynolds here. There are also three pretty major twists in this section and some guests to New Hope. Despite how annoying the whole Ward situation is, this section was really awesome. I was reading during class and I kept gasping as each twist happened. They are so stinking major it hurts! I think that is what got all my kids wanting to read it. I pose the question as I leave you—Is it really an alien novel?

Rating: 4 Owls
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Why I liked it:
It’s a good book for the simple fact that it is different from anything I have read before. Some how though, it pulled back around to YA lit’s dystopian trend and that really worked for me. I’m also impressed that this was Lunetta’s debut book. It was a really strong entry into the world of author-ness(?). It was a can’t-put-down novel in a lot of respects.

Why my kids liked it:
Well, they are still reading it, so I can’t tell you right now. But I’m sure it will be for same reasons I did.

Quick and Dirty, 160 Character Review:
Great debut from Lunetta. Book is interesting and packed with lots of twists. With 3 sections and instant action, it keeps you sucked in!

Image from Barnes & Noble

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Happy Reading!

-Miss Wyoming