Year of No Rain

Year of No Rain

3.2 4
by Alice Mead

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"An artfully told story . . . The history, the land, and the determination of a band of refugees to care for each other are vividly evoked in this important work." -- Starred review, Kirkus Reviews

In the dry spring of 1999, eleven-year-old Stephen Majok watches as his friend Wol joins a circle of dancers. Wol is celebrating – only


"An artfully told story . . . The history, the land, and the determination of a band of refugees to care for each other are vividly evoked in this important work." -- Starred review, Kirkus Reviews

In the dry spring of 1999, eleven-year-old Stephen Majok watches as his friend Wol joins a circle of dancers. Wol is celebrating – only fourteen, he is engaged to Stephen's sister. Wol wants to marry because he might join the guerrillas in southern Sudan and fight the northern government soldiers. He wants a wife to remember him. Stephen thinks Wol is crazy. Children should study. But because of the civil war, there has been no school in their village for over a year. All Stephen has left from his student days is his books and one precious pencil, and the hunger for knowledge. Then, suddenly – but not unexpectedly – exploding bombs are heard in the tiny village. Stephen's mother tells him to hurry, pack his bag, and hide beyond the forest with Wol and their friend Deng. Stephen grabs his geography book, his pencil, and little else. He does not want to leave his mother and sister. He does not want to leave the life he loves.
In her latest portrayal of "children caught in the cultural crossfire" (School Library Journal), Alice Mead emphasizes the attachment all humans have to the small place on earth we call home, and our resistance to being displaced, even when our very lives are threatened.

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.
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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Year of No Rain
One"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 interestedin 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 watchingthe 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 rangywhite 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 andminded 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. Stephen carefully pulled open a place in the thorn fence that served as a crude gate. He used a long pole to pry apart the branches, avoiding the thorns.As the cows ambled through the opening, Stephen quickly scanned the herd to see which three were missing. The other yellow cow. A white-and-tan one. And a white one with one short horn. It was true. All belonged to Peter Garang."See? What did I say? It's only my cows that aregone. That's no accident, I can tell you. I bet someone did this to me on purpose, thinking, Well, Garang is old, he won't miss them. Ha. If you boys don't find my cows immediately, you can all expect a lashing.""Yes, uncle.""Maybe the person who did this to me is the person who wants to offer a bride price for Naomi himself!" shouted Peter.Stephen hurried the cows toward the grassy open field, where they would graze. He didn't want to be punished on the night of the dance. And it wasn't fair that he had to get the cows alone, that Deng and Wol were late. But maybe that would turn out well. They would owe him a favor in exchange for their lateness. He would send them to look for Peter's cows.Then Stephen saw his friends, each dressed in a pair of worn shorts, fooling around near the open-sided hut where the village children had had school last year. The teacher had left when the northern soldiers moved into the region.Deng and Wol were practicing hops and high leaps in the air, their legs tucked under them. They were getting ready for the dance."Hey! Never mind that," Stephen shouted. "Come on. You're late! Some cows escaped last night. Now you'll have to go find them!"Already the herd of long-horned cattle was ambling toward the fields.Stephen jogged after the herd. Wol and Deng, playfully laughing and shoving each other, trailed behind.Copyright © 2003 by Alice Mead

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.

A children's writer has the unusual task of developing a unique voice coupled with evoking the so-called magic of childhood. But is childhood truly a magical kingdom?

I do know that childhood is a time so deeply and purely felt that adulthood can rarely match it. It is a time of great heroism, dashed hopes, leaps of joy, steadfast friendships, explosive frustration, utter hilarity, the shame of betrayal. Certain smells, certain words elicit powerful memories of childhood. For me, the smell of boiled brussels sprouts even now makes me feel utter revulsion. The smell of ethyl alcohol and the words "tetanus booster"cause sheer terror. The clap of an old, dusty book snapped shut and the words "hidden staircase" fill me with wonder. Where? Where? Tell me! How could I not write about childhood?

When I was seven and eight, my family lived in postwar England, in an industrial Yorkshire city that still showed the devastation of World War II and the Nazi bombings. This left a lasting impression on me. The journey there, by ocean liner across the Atlantic, and my later poking about deserted misty castles and the dank Yorkshire moors, and smelling pungent coal fires, all created an unusual and not always pleasant adventure filled with questions. Was Robin Hood real? Was that truly King Arthur's castle? And had I really snapped a photo of the Loch Ness monster? The long, snaky streak still shows plainly in my faded photo.

Back in the United States, I grew up during the Cold War, at the height of the nuclear arms race. I studied Russian for six years, or tried to, endlessly curious about the countries behind the Iron Curtain. And when I was eighteen, there was the Vietnam War. There were antiwar protests, Woodstock, flower children. I went to a Quaker college. I wanted to major in art, but there was no art department, so I majored in English. I started attending Quaker meetings.

One summer, when I was twenty, I worked as an art counselor at a Fresh Air camp for inner-city kids. Watching their sheer delight in using paint and clay, I was hooked. I became an art teacher. I felt privileged to be with kids, to make my classroom a safe place where they could explore their own creativity.

In the meantime, I married and had two sons, both of whom are now in college. One is studying economics and one physics. My husband and I have two dogs, and used to have the occasional rabbit, chameleon, hamster, and goldfish as visitors.

My life was going along smoothly until I was forced to leave teaching because of a chronic illness. I had to rest a lot. That gave me time to work harder on my writing. I began writing a storybook about nature called "Tales of the Maine Woods." Although editors seemed to like the stories, they weren't willing to publish them. Eventually I gave the stories a grandmother, and then I gave the grandmother a granddaughter named Rayanne. Two of those original tales are part of my first book, Crossing the Starlight Bridge.

For two years I watched the war in Bosnia, formerly part of Yugoslavia. In another part of this region, one million Albanian children are among the brutally oppressed. Even under these harsh conditions, they struggle to live in peace and dignity. The family bonds in their culture are extraordinary. I wrote about these children in Adem's Cross. Each day for the past four years, I have worked to help them, and all Balkan people, regain their freedom and human rights.

Recently, other Quaker values besides non-violence became more meaningful to me. These are simplicity and self-reflection. My husband and I moved to a small house near a cliff overlooking the islands in Casco Bay, Maine. I have a flower garden that my dogs like to dig up. When I am stuck writing a story, I can go and sit on the rocks and watch the water for a while, something I have enjoyed doing through my whole life.

Alice Mead was born in 1952 and attended Bryn Mawr College. She received a master's degree in education, and later a B.S. in art education. She founded two preschools for mainstreaming handicapped preschoolers, and taught art at the junior-high-school level for a number of years. She played the flute and piccolo for twenty-eight years, and now she paints, and enjoys gardening and writing--especially about a little boy named Junebug.

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Year of No Rain 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've used this book in the classroom with 9th grade students and have found that it opens their eyes. The previous reviewer thinks it is too heavy for the age range 9-12 and I might agree. On the other hand, it is an easy accesible read for students that are 14 and just starting high school. If used and taught in a positive manner, this book prompts students to volunteer for community organizations and give thanks for the things they have. Can be a spring board for a 'pay it forward' attitude.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I did not like this book. I feel that it is far too 'heavy' for the age range for which it is targeted. Yes, I know that these things happen in the world, but it seems to me that a steady diet of world tragey could lead to pessmism and despression in children. Especially, I did not like the fact that the boys stole from the refugee aid workers when they returned home. The author apparently believes in absolute moral relativism!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My freind is reading this.