Year of No Rain

Year of No Rain

3.2 4
by Alice Mead
     
 

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In the spring of 1999, hunger and thirst are constant companions to 11-year-old Stephen and his family and friends in their southern Sudan village. Stephen wants to go back to his books, but the village school is closed due to civil war between the northern soldiers and the southern rebels. When bombs explode in their small village, Stephen’s mother tells him

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Overview

In the spring of 1999, hunger and thirst are constant companions to 11-year-old Stephen and his family and friends in their southern Sudan village. Stephen wants to go back to his books, but the village school is closed due to civil war between the northern soldiers and the southern rebels. When bombs explode in their small village, Stephen’s mother tells him and his friends to quickly pack, and they run and hide before they’re caught by the enemy soldiers. Stephen leaves with a few precious possessions, wondering if each step will bring him closer to water, food, and freedom—and maybe home again someday.

“Mead puts civil war in human terms through the eyes of one young boy. In the context of an artfully told story, much is told about how war works. . . . The history, the land, and the determination of a band of refugees to care for each other are vividly evoked in this important work.”—Kirkus Reviews, Starred

“Mead conveys the particulars of the place and the desperate longing of a displaced child for home, education, and peace.”—Booklist

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Mead (Adem's Cross; Girl of Kosovo) again places young protagonists at the center of a harrowing international crisis, in this instance focusing on boys forced to flee their homes in southern Sudan. Initial scenes effectively sketch the politics, hierarchy and economic parameters of village life as 11-year-old Stephen jokes and worries about the marriage choices of his 16-year-old sister and frets over the possible machinations of a relatively prosperous neighbor. But when a humanitarian food drop attracts hostile soldiers, Stephen and his friends must hide to avoid forced conscription. Hardships sharply escalate, but although the developments are plausible, their rendering often seems flat. As the boys set off on a perilous quest, encountering other refugees and a kindly aid worker, the plot and circumstances take precedence over the characterizations. Accordingly, readers may not fully identify with the boys' suffering. While this novel sheds light on the calamitous conditions in the Sudan, it makes more of an intellectual impact than an emotional one. Ages 8-12. (May) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
KLIATT
Mead has written other novels for young YAs about children in desperate circumstances—Girl of Kosovo, another novel by her now in paperback, is reviewed in this issue. Here we follow a crisis in the lives of young boys in southern Sudan. Their country is in a civil war, boys are in danger of being kidnapped to serve in the army, girls are sold into slavery if captured, and drought has ruined their crops. After the UN drops rice, beans, and other supplies from a plane for their village, they are attacked by soldiers intent on stealing the food and taking their livestock. Stephen's mother had urged the boys to flee into the nearby forest; when they return after the soldiers leave they find their huts burned, their families killed, all the food stolen. The rest of the brief story tells of the boys' trek to find food, perhaps a refugee camp, but the distances are long, and malaria and starvation sap their strength—they constantly have to reconsider their plans, and this makes them bicker and feel more confused. Mead is a vivid storyteller. Presumably she has the facts correct about village life in the Sudan and the horrors of the civil war there. In a short period of time, young YA readers are able to understand something of the struggle of these Sudanese boys. Because of the publicity about slavery in the Sudan, young people throughout the world already know something about this terrible conflict. This is good supplementary material for geography classes in addition to being a good survival story. KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior high school students. 2003, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 130p. map.,
— Claire Rosser
School Library Journal
Gr 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.
Kirkus Reviews
The year 1999 in South Sudan was one of no rain and little mercy. Stephen Kajok’s father, a soldier, has gone away and never returned, two younger brothers have died--one of malaria, one of diarrhea--and now there are only three members of the Majok family left. When Stephen’s mother is killed and sister Naomi is missing, Stephen, his friend Wol, and other refugees find themselves on a journey to find a hospitable refugee camp. Mead puts civil war in human terms through the eyes of one young boy. In the context of an artfully told story, much is told about how war works. The government has discovered oil and is clearing the tribespeople from the land; the rebels raid villages, kidnapping boys for fighting and girls for selling; and families are caught in the middle. The history, the land, and the determination of a band of refugees to care for each other are vividly evoked in this important work. (map, introduction) (Fiction. 8-12)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780440420040
Publisher:
Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
01/11/2005
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
144
Product dimensions:
5.26(w) x 7.62(h) x 0.35(d)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

"There's a full moon tonight," Naomi Majok said to her younger brother, Stephen. "And that means a dance!" She pulled him to his feet, dreamily closing her eyes and swaying.
Naomi and Stephen lived with their mother in the Bahr el Ghazal region of southern Sudan, in a small, out-of-the-way village, surrounded by mile upon mile of vast grasslands.
"Uh-oh, Naomi! You're in love!" crowed Stephen. "Who is it? Old Peter Garang? I know—you want his cows. He offered us five for your bride price. We'd be practically rich!"
"Stephen! Of course it's not Peter Garang. He has only three teeth! Anyway," she said, "Wol's mother has ten cows. I know she could match Peter's offer."
"Wait a minute! What are you saying? Wol's interested in offering us a bride price for you? He's just a boy! He's fourteen! Only three years older than I am!"
"Don't tease. I know he's young, but imagine me as Peter's third wife."
"Yes, but he belongs to the most influential family in the village. They have twenty cows!" Stephen said. "Naomi, be serious. Did Wol really make Mama an offer for you?"
"Not yet. But he's going to. At least, I think he will. What do you think? Would he be a good husband for me?" Naomi asked.
Stephen burst out laughing. He couldn't imagine it. He and Wol and Deng, who was thirteen, worked and played together all the time. He couldn't picture Wol and sixteen-year-old Naomi married.
"Stop laughing!" Naomi cried.
"Okay, okay." Stephen cleared his throat and tried to settle down. "Being married to Garang would be awful. And since both families could offer us a price of five cows, the offers are equal. So that means it will be up to Mama to decide."
"Oh, don't say that," Naomi moaned. "That's just the problem. She's sure to choose Garang because of his position in the tribe. And listen, I don't want you to say anything about this to Wol today. Promise?"
"Calm down, Naomi."
"You think this is easy? In three or four years, you may be in the same position."
"Me?" Stephen looked at his sister, surprised. He would never be married. He would study in Egypt or Kenya or who knew where and become a teacher.
At that moment, their mother entered their tukel, a round hut made of mud and grass, with a cone-shaped roof. She was carrying two calabash gourds filled with water from the well. She set them on the dirt floor and rubbed the small of her back.
"There's going to be a dance tonight, Mama," Naomi said.
"Is that so?" her mother said.
She glanced at the mattock leaning against the wall by the entrance. The tool was for digging, for chopping at the dry ground and loosening it. The tarnished blade was bound to the wooden handle with a long cord.
"Naomi," she said sharply, "never mind tonight. What about the crops? Do you expect us to eat weeds? And, Stephen, you boys didn't fix the thorn hedge around the cattle pen yesterday. Three cows disappeared last night. Now you'll have to go looking for them."
Stephen made a face. He, Wol, and their friend Deng had all made new spears yesterday, while watching the cattle. Late in the afternoon, when the heat eased a little, they had thrown their spears at the round gourd they used as a ball until their shoulders ached. So when they brought the cattle back to the village, none of the boys had wanted to repair the thorny branch fence that kept the cows safe overnight.
Acacia thorns were long and sharp and left deep, bloody scratches on the boys' hands and arms. The branches were the cows' only protection against predators. There was always the danger of attack by wild animals, maybe lions, hyenas, or leopards. And the villagers depended on their cows for everything—they drank the milk and blood and burned the dried dung when no firewood could be found.
Stephen thought about the difficulties of dragging more branches to the fence. Still, when their mother ordered them to work, they obeyed. The children quickly hurried out of the tukel.
Sudanese children learned early to work hard for their families. Girls always worked in the home and the fields, struggling to keep the sorghum and maize alive and growing through the terrible heat and what now seemed to be their third year of drought in a row. Boys herded the cattle, which were the pride of all Dinka tribes in the region of Bahr el Ghazal, the River of Gazelles.
It was Stephen's job to take their two cows, a rangy white one with long curved horns and his favorite, their old yellow cow, from the large pen and out to pasture with the rest of the village cattle. Wol and Deng, the only other older boys in the village, went with him.
Stephen walked across the circle of cone-shaped huts, past the village well, to the cow pen. He saw the tips of the cattle's wide-spaced horns, visible above the thorny branches. One of the old men, dressed in a cloth fastened at the shoulder, was using a long stick to refashion the branches so they would block the hole where the cows had escaped during the night.
Peter Garang watched. He had twenty cows, more than anyone in the village, although once people had had many more. He shouted to Stephen, "Look at this hole! This fence is no good. If you boys did your work properly, my cows would never have gotten loose."
Oh no, Stephen thought. Why couldn't the missing cows belong to someone else?
"Maybe your cows couldn't sleep well last night. The cows want to stay awake when there's a full moon, just like the rest of us, uncle," Stephen said, trying to pacify the old man. "Don't worry. We'll find them."
"Huh. I doubt that," Peter said in disgust, spitting a stream of tobacco juice in the dirt.
Making sure that the children did their work and minded their elders was the job of all the adults in the village, not just the parents. Peter had a right to criticize the boys. Stephen didn't want Peter to beat him with his stick, so he tried again to change the subject. "There's going to be a dance tonight."
"And your sister needs a wealthy husband," old man Garang said. "She's always singing love songs out in the fields. I hear her. We all hear her. Maybe I'll marry her myself, eh? I've made my offer. When is your mother going to make her decision?"
"I don't know. Soon, I think."
"Your sister is a little too full of herself," Peter Garang said, his dignity somewhat injured.
Stephen stifled a laugh. Naomi was proud of her beauty. And he was sure that she would never marry a snoopy old man like Peter, no matter how many cows he had or what Mama said.

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Meet the Author

Alice Mead is the author of many highly acclaimed novels, including Junebug and Girl of Kosovo, both NCSS-CBC Notable Children’s Trade Books in the Field of Social Studies. She lives in Maine.

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