Set in a barren, drought-ravaged country, Crowder's tense and often bleak debut threads together the voices of Sarel, who witnesses the shooting deaths of her parents at the hands of gang members in search of water; Musa, a boy kidnapped and abused by the gang, which exploits him for his dowsing talents; and Nandi, one of Sarel's beloved dogs. Since the intruders set Sarel's family homestead on fire, leaving the earth "burned black," Sarel sleeps alongside the dogs in the kennel. By day, she forages for food in the wilderness and shares what little water she can collect with the animals. After Musa escapes from his captors and stumbles onto Sarel's turf, starving and injured, she nurses him back to health, and the two pool their skills to survive. Taut yet descriptive, Crowder's writing dramatically captures the characters' desperation; the blistering heat and their acute hunger and thirst are entirely persuasive. Though a final violent encounter has a disturbing apocalyptic edge, the novel concludes on an uplifting note—close to the only one heard throughout this sobering story. Ages 10–14. Agent: Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary Agency. (June)
With severe drought, child enslavement, and multiple shootings of people and dogs, this slim volume isn't for the faint of heart, though it repays those who soldier on. In an unspecified African "place of dust and death," in a story somewhere between realism and fable, Nandi the dog narrates an opening scene in which Sarel sees her parents gunned down. The gunmen, failing to find a water source, set the house afire and depart, leaving Sarel orphaned on her desert homestead. An underground grotto with a well sustains Sarel and her pack of dogs--fully family to her--while they recover from smoke inhalation and bullet wounds. In a nearby city, Musa sits in chains, taken outdoors only when gunmen (those who shot Sarel's parents) need a dowser--Musa hears a buzz in his skull when water's nearby. One generation ago, there were faucets and lawn sprinklers; now, gangs kill for a water bottle. When Musa escapes and Sarel's well runs dry, the tale's fablelike nature makes their meeting inevitable, even in the desert. The narration uses primarily Sarel's and Musa's perspectives, describing nature sparely and vividly. Thirst and heat are palpable as kids and dogs fight fatal dehydration. Occasionally, Nandi narrates, in broken English more distracting than doglike. A wrenching piece with a wisp of hope for the protagonists if not for the rest of their world. (Fiction. 12-14)
A Junior Library Guild Selection
"Brutally beautiful, this is a story that both inspires and sounds an alarm, a story of courage and heart. Just like Musa’s ability to tap into water, it asks us to tap into our own humanity, even though it might be more deeply hidden than we can imagine."
—Kathi Appelt, Newbery Honor-winning author of The Underneath
"A thrilling, imaginative soul quencher. Crowder’s stunning debut is sure to become a modern classic."
—Rita Williams-Garcia, Newbery Honor-winning author of One Crazy Summer
"Spare, unflinching, and beautifully written, this novel walks the line between magic and reality."
— Franny Bilingsley, National Book Award finalist for Chime
"Thirst and heat are palpable as kids and dogs fight fatal dehydration. . . . A wrenching piece with a wisp of hope for the protagonists if not for the rest of their world."
"The writing, especially the descriptions of the drought conditions and extreme thirst, is excellent."
—School Library Journal
"The direct powerful prose in this first novel dramatizes the exciting contemporary survival story. . . . Fans of Gary Paulsen's Hatchet (1987) will want this."
"Taut yet descriptive, Crowder's writing dramatically captures the characters' desperation; the blistering heat and their acute hunger and thirst are entirely persuasive."
— Publishers Weekly
* "Crowder's spare storytelling and third-person narration provide young readers some safe distance for witnessing the tragic events, while well-chosen details and taut descriptions effectively convey the intensity of the situation."
—Bulletin, starred review
Gr 5–8—Imagine life with no water-no rain, no dew, no rivers or lakes-nothing. This sparely written tale tells of two young teens working together to survive a devastating drought in southern Africa. Musa, an African boy, has been sold into slavery because of his dowsing ability. His cruel owners keep him alive only to use his talents. Sarel, a Caucasian girl, faces an uncertain future after her parents are brutally shot by thugs looking for water. Alone with her family's pack of Rhodesian ridgebacks in the African bush, she decides to leave her homestead. But Nandi, leader of the dog pack, refuses to leave. She senses help is coming. Musa escapes his captors and flees toward the only water source he senses-across the desert, near Sarel's home. Nearly dead from dehydration, he collapses upon meeting Sarel. Grudgingly, she nurses him back to health. Together, they attempt to find what Musa knows is there. The story moves well, alternating among the perspectives of Sarel, Musa, and Nandi. However, it is slightly jarring to continually transition between human and canine perspectives. The writing, especially the descriptions of the drought conditions and extreme thirst, is excellent. Readers develop a cheerleader relationship with Sarel and Musa, hoping with each chapter that they will find water, somewhere, somehow. This is by no means an essential purchase, but it is a compelling read.—Lisa Crandall, formerly at the Capital Area District Library, Holt, MI