A Long Walk to Water: A Novel Based on a True Story by Linda Sue Park.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2010.
Middle grade realistic fiction, 121 pages.
Lexile: 720L .
AR Level: 5.0 (worth 3.0 points) .
Southern Sudan, 2008: Nya is a young girl who, for seven months of the year, spends every day walking to a nearby pond and bringing a heavy plastic container back to her family. After a brief stop for lunch, she repeats the task in the afternoon. Every day.
Southern Sudan, 1985: Salva is a young boy displaced by the wars and drought that are sweeping through the Sudan. He, too, walks for miles every day, but without a lunch, home, or destination. He walks with the hope of survival, unlikely for a young Sudanese boy alone in the world.
This book has been on my TBR for a while, but originally I was under the impression it was non-fiction. The afterword has notes from both Salva Dut and author Linda Sue Park, explaining how the story was based on his life, using interviews, personal conversations, and his writings to keep the fictionalized story as close as possible to what actually happened.
Nya is an entirely fictional character, but is based on real experiences of people whom Salva and Park spoke to. Her story is told at the beginning of each chapter, in very short snippets, often less than a page. The real meat of the story is in Salva’s journey, his perseverance, quest to better himself even in the most appalling conditions, and desire to help others. Eventually at the end of the book, Nya’s story takes over the final chapters.
The suspenseful nature of both stories and relatively short chapters (there are 18 chapters plus the afterwords in this 121 page book) make it a quick read. It’s probably taking me longer to write this review than it did to read the chapter book I’m writing about!
I definitely learned a bit about South Sudan, and some of the historical and modern-day events which have caused great difficulty for the people who live there. A lot of the basics about the Lost Boys and the wars I had absorbed through various articles, but this was a good reinforcement of the information and added some details that I hadn’t known previously.
In comparison to some adult books I’ve read in the last year (Born a Crime, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, Long Walk to Freedom), I didn’t feel that I learned too much about that particular region of Africa, but it was a gripping and suspenseful novel. For many American children, this book will be eye-opening both to the realities of poverty in some parts of the world, and the momentous events the American media largely ignores (wars that amount to genocide, forced conscription of child soldiers).
The front of the book has a map of the area Salva walked. I managed to overlook this until looking up the publication information, but it could be quite helpful during the reading as Salva’s journey is marked, allowing the reader to see how he repeatedly walked across the country and through the dessert.
Linda Sue Park is Korean-American, so this book isn’t an #ownvoice but she collaborated with Salva to make sure the story appropriately represented his life. Before this book, Park was best known for her Newberry-winning historical fiction novel A Single Shard. I see that she’s also written some picture books, which I didn’t know until writing this review.
If you recall, a 6th grader I tutor was given Everything, Everything as a class read – they’ve now moved on to A Long Walk to Water, which is so much more appropriate!
This is a good introduction to the Sudan for middle school students up to adults wanting a quick read. For younger children I would use discretion as death, loss, and extreme hardships do occur. I’ve had some sensitive fifth graders who wouldn’t be able to read this, and whole classes of third graders who would have been able to handle it just fine.
See also: Review: The Red Pencil