From School Library Journal
Gr 5-8–Salva and Nya have difficult paths to walk in life. Salva's journey, based on a true story, begins in 1985 with an explosion. The boy's small village in Sudan erupts into chaos while the 11-year-old is in school, and the teacher tells the children to run away. Salva leaves his family and all that is familiar and begins to walk. Sometimes he walks alone and sometimes there are others. They are walking toward a refugee camp in Ethiopia, toward perceived safety. However, the camp provides only temporary shelter from the violent political storm. In 1991-'92, thousands are killed as they try to cross a crocodile-infested river when they are forced out of the country; Salva survives and gets 1200 boys to safety in Kenya. Nya's life in 2008 revolves around water. She spends eight hours a day walking to and from a pond. In the dry season, her family must uproot themselves and relocate to the dry lake bed where they dig in the mud until water eventually trickles out. Nya's narrative frames Salva's journey from Sudan to Ethiopia to Rochester, NY, and, eventually, back to Sudan. Both story lines are spare, offering only pertinent details. In the case of Salva, six years in a camp pass by with the barest of mentions. This minimalism streamlines the plot, providing a clarity that could have easily become mired in depressing particulars. The two narratives intersect in a quiet conclusion that is filled with hope.–Naphtali L. Faris, Saint Louis Public Library, MOα(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
*Starred Review* After 11-year-old Salva’s school in Sudan is attacked by brutal rebel soldiers in 1985, he describes several terrifying years on the run in visceral detail: “The rain, the mad current, the bullets, the crocodiles, the welter of arms and legs, the screams, the blood.” Finally, he makes it to refugee camps in Ethiopia and then Kenya, where he is one of 3,000 young men chosen to go to America. After he is adopted by a family in Rochester, New York, he is reunited with the Sudanese family that he left behind. There have been several books about the lost boys of Sudan for adults, teens, and even for elementary-school readers. But Newbery Award–winning Park’s spare, immediate account, based on a true story, adds a stirring contemporary dimension. In chapters that alternate with Salva’s story, Nya, a young Sudanese girl in 2008, talks about daily life, in which she walks eight hours to fetch water for her family. Then, a miracle happens: Salva returns home to help his people and builds a well, making fresh water available for the community and freeing Nya to go to school. The switching viewpoints may initially disorient some, but young readers will be stunned by the triumphant climax of the former refugee who makes a difference with the necessities that we all take for granted. Teachers may want to point out the allusion to Nelson Mandela’s A Long Walk to Freedom (1995) echoed in this moving book’s title. Grades 6-9. --Hazel Rochman