Book Review: A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

Salva Dut is 11 years old in 1985 when the war in Sudan tears him from his family.  One of the “lost boys” of Sudan, Salva travails the African continent in search of his family and safety.  After spending years in a refugee camp, he finally gets the chance to move to America.  Nya is 11 years old in 2008 and travels with her family as the seasons change so they can be near water.  She makes multiple trips a day to a pond hours from her house so that they can survive.  These two children’s lives with intersect in ways they never dreamed possible.

Linda Sue Park’s sparse narration makes this beautiful, hopeful novel one to remember.  The bare minimum approach to the narration makes the novel’s dual stories move along at a fast pace, perfect for readers of all ages (and especially well-suited to readers who have short attention spans).  Both Salva and Nya are compelling characters,and Park does an admirable job of allowing them to have their own unique stories and motivations.

Interweaving true-life historical details (the character of Salva is based in part on the life of a real Sudanese lost boy) with fictional ones, Park creates a novel that is grounded in history but has a timeless feel to it.  By including the more modern story of Nya, Park helps readers bridge the gap between the war-torn Sudan that Salva experienced with a more contemporary perspective.  Readers of all ages should be moved and astonished by the resilience of these character’s and the novel’s realistic yet hopeful tone.

Surprising, moving, and definitely a book that should be in libraries and classrooms all over the place.  Although the novel occasionally treads the line of providing too much context, Park’s control over the prose and the narrative keep it from ever truly intruding into the story.  This is a gem of a book.  Highly recommended.

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park. Clarion Books: 2010. Borrowed from Oyster.

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