book review: A Long Walk to Water

book review: A Long Walk to Water
author: Linda Sue Park
date: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Nov 2011
main character: Salva Dut

A Long Walk to Water is a story that teaches the importance of reaching forward. Park gives an example of this in her novel by opening each chapter with a glimpse of an event that takes place years after the main event of the story. It is somewhat challenging following the two unrelated events, but experienced readers know that parallel tales such as these always merge.

Much of A Long Walk to Water is true, but to create a more engaging story Park opted to create some of the details and categorize the book as fiction. Salva, her main character, lived in Sudan where he was displaced from his home and family because of war. He spends much of his young life alone, living as a refugee. Rather than focusing on the politics and horrific details that could weigh the story down, Park gives the story of a young man who was able to find the strength to survive and to lead others. With his entire world crumbling, Salva was able to cling to little things that previously were insignificant to get him through his days, one day at a time.

When they reached the bushes, Uncle pointed out a clump of rocks up ahead and told Salva to walk as far as the rocks. After that, a lone acacia… another clump of rocks… a spot bare of everything except sand.

Uncle continued in this way for the rest of the walk.  Each time, he spoke to Salva using his full name. Each time, Salva would think of his family and his village, and he was somehow able to keep his wounded feet moving forward, one painful step at a time.

At last, the sun was reluctantly forced from the sky. A blessing of darkness fell across the desert, and it was time to rest.

No doubt, Parks is a talented writing yet the sparse details made it difficult for me to fully connect with the Salva. We’re given glimpses of his self-actualization, but the rushed ending gives few insights into his transition to life in the US or his continued development. Parks does provide follow-up information about the Lost Boys in her author’s note, as well as Salva’s Water for Sudan program.

Review copy read on NetGalley

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4 responses

  1. Hm. I have this one from NetGalley also because it’s on our Mock Newbery list due to Park’s recognition. I haven’t read it yet because it’s such a slow start! It’s number 25 of 42 so I hope to get to it over Christmas Break!

  2. Hmmm, your analysis is interesting. I haven’t read this yet but I’m wondering if the lack of details/connection might make the work more accessible for me. When I tried to read Eggers’ WHAT IS THE WHAT, I had to put it down again and again because it just hurt too much to read, despite the fact that I really wanted to understand the character’s experiences. I am officially intrigued.

  3. Vicky and Brain: I’m glad I was able to provide an honest review that didn’t close your mind toward this book. I’d love to hear from you after you read it to hear what you think.

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