Parched, by Melanie Crowder

Parched, by Melanie Crowder (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2013, middle grade), is a moving and absorbing addition to the (admittedly slim) ranks of speculative fiction set in Africa.  It takes place in what seems to be southern Africa, in a near future.  where rising sea levels have turned fresh water undrinkable, and the cities along the coast have collapsed into chaos and despair.  Water is the most precious thing there is...and there is not enough of it.  

Sarel watches as desperate men come to their family farm, far from the city in the middle of a desiccated wilderness, and kill her parents.  But they do not find her...nor do they find the secret grotto where there is still water to be found.  For a while, she may survive, desperately keeping herself and the family dogs alive...and the dogs themselves wonder, in fairly realistic dog bits of narration, what will become of them.

Musa has a gift for dowsing...if there is water to be found, he can find it.  But all that's left to find in the crumbling city are the lines of the old sewer pipes...and the gang who owns him, keeping him bound like an animal regardless of the festering wounds on his wrists, are not pleased.  So he makes a desperate effort, and escapes...heading out into the dry lands beyond.

And his path takes him, almost dead from thirst, to Sarel.  The water in the secret grotto is gone too, and Sarel knows that if she stays in her home, she will die.  None of her knowledge about plants and animals can save her, when there is nothing to drink.  Musa's coming brings new hope--with his gift they might find the water they need to make a future for themselves.

But the men who owned him will not let him go without a hunt.

Small, precise little details of each kid's life and struggle to survive (and the bits from the dog point of view) build the book into a grim but not hopeless story of grief and desperation.  It's a subtle sort of futuristic dystopia--it's so plausible, even today before sea level has really risen all that much, that the true extent of its future consequences seems like it might already have happened.   An additional sci fi/fantasy element is Musa's ability to dowse-it goes beyond common dowsing into a more preternatural ability.

Memorable, powerful, sad...it's not for the faint of heart, what with beloved people, and dogs, being shot, brutal child-enslavement, and a horribly depressing near future.  But the mater of fact, simple way the story is told keeps  it from being emotionally manipulative.   It would make a good eye-opener for the kid who's always taken water for granted, or a good one that a fan of kids surviving alone (with nice bits of wild plant foraging, etc).   

Final answer--a simple book, but a strong one, that sticks in the mind.

Nominated for the Cybils by Robin.


  1. This sounds like a great book. I don't recall reading anything quite like it. Many of my 5th grade students enjoy reading survival books- so I will have to check this one out. :) What a wonderful review! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks for stopping by! I think there are fifth graders who would like it lots, though it is somewhat sadder and darker than many books, so it probably would be good if you read it first, just to be sure!

  2. hey nice post meh, I love your style of blogging here. this post reminds me of an equally interesting post that I read some time ago on Daniel Uyi's blog: Plan For Dating Girls .
    keep up the good work friend. I will be back to read more of your posts.


  3. It definitely sounds like some of the survival books I enjoyed as a kid, which I probably would've enjoyed even more with spec fic elements.

  4. I agree. This is a simple but powerful book. Gorgeously written.

  5. Too me, the lasting power of this book is the focus on friendship, love, and survival. The beautiful writing was amazing.

  6. I love this book and you did a fantastic job with your review. :)

  7. I went through a period when I tried to get my hands on all of the survival books in print - I'm looking forward to reading this one and seeing if it will spark my imagination.


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