From School Library Journal
Grade 5-7-In 1999, Stephen, 11, lives with his mother and older sister in a poor, drought-stricken village in the southern Sudan. His father went off to fight with the rebels when the boy was an infant, and the family remains fearful of assaults by northern government soldiers. When the village is attacked (by the southern rebels, as it turns out), the boy and two friends are sent to hide in the forest. Upon returning home, they find that their village has been destroyed, Stephen's mother has been killed, and his sister is missing, possibly taken as a slave. The boys try to make their way to a refugee camp, where Stephen believes he will be able to go to school and achieve his dream of becoming a teacher; but after a harrowing journey across dangerous, inhospitable territory, they return to their village. While Mead gives voice to a vulnerable, often forgotten group of people, the novel does not bring the tragedy of the southern Sudan to the consciousness of readers in a way that will keep their interest. Neither the characters nor the places are brought fully to life, and the dialogue has a flatness that prevents readers from experiencing the impact of the horrific events. Beverley Naidoo's The Other Side of Truth (HarperCollins, 2001) portrays vulnerable refugee children far more successfully, and Joseph Bruchac's The Winter People (Dial, 2002) allows readers to empathize with a Native American boy whose village is destroyed. Purchase only where there is a need in this subject area.Sue Giffard, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, New York City
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Gr. 5-7. Like Mead's Girl of Kosovo
(2001), this novel tells the story of a contemporary child caught up in a brutal civil war in a far off country. In this book, the place is drought-stricken southern Sudan; the time is 1999. Stephen Majok, 11, is on the run with a group of boys after soldiers raid their village and slaughter nearly everyone, including his mother. The research is accurate, and Mead includes a historical note and a map. But the narrative doesn't have the immediacy of the Kosovo story, which was based on the experience of an Albanian family. There's little sense of Stephen's culture or personality. He talks like an American kid ("Come off it"), and at times the fiction reads like a distant news report. Still, there's very little for middle-schoolers about this horrific conflict and the traumatic effects it had on children, and without sensationalism, Mead conveys the particulars of the place and the desperate longing of a displaced child for home, education, and peace. Hazel RochmanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved