Allison's Book Bag

Parched by Melanie Crowder

Posted on: April 12, 2014

Set in the near future in an unnamed location in Africa, Parched deals with the challenging conditions that drought can bring to children and their families. It also explores the brutality of the warfare which can result from lack of natural resources such as water. As such, Parched is not typical juvenile reading fare.

Its strength lies in its descriptions. In writing Parched, Melanie Crowder researched animals, plants, and geology, and it shows. From her references to aloe, baobab, and thorn trees, I instinctively felt this story happened in Africa. Moreover, from what I can find in dog guides, her depiction of the Ridgeback dogs (which are native to South Africa), are also accurate.

In addition, Crowder researched severe drought, trauma, and child psychology. This too becomes apparent in highly visceral descriptions of the land such as “ripples in the earth and the half-buried shells of long-dead water creatures were the only signs that creeks and marches had once streamed between the dry riverbeds.” As for the trauma, both of the main characters lose their parents to either disease or guerilla warfare. As a result, both become wary of others, which also puts them at odds with each other. Yet ultimately they’ll need to depend on one other to survive.

A weakness of Parched lies in the usage of dowsing by Musa, one of the main characters. Perhaps dowsing is practiced in Africa, but if so I was unable to find any confirmation of this. As such, I’m not sure why Crowder bestowed Musa with an ability borne from superstition and treats it as credible. This seems like an odd choice for an otherwise highly realistic novel.

Indeed, Parched is unusually brutal, given its target age of juveniles. Because of his dowsing skills, Musa is captured by thugs who chain him, drag him around by a leash, and even beat him. At one point, Crowder provides this dark scene: “A boy huddled in the corner, his face buried in the crook of an arm. Flies landed on seeping scabs at his wrists and ankles.” Incidentally, these thugs have no problem firing off guns at adults, animals, and children. While fantasies and dystopian novels often do contain these graphic levels of brutality, the targeted age is more often youth.

Because I’m reviewing Parched as part of a multicultural committee, I need to evaluate it on two levels. From the perspective of diversity, it only partly succeeds. Africa Access Review admits that it seems to build logically on a South African framework, but also notes that it feels somewhat disjointed perhaps due to the lack of a close connection to the region by the author. From the perspective of entertainment, again it only partly succeeds. The use of dowsing took me back to days of watching Walt Disney movies and reading Nancy Drew mysteries or to light-hearted stories which required me to suspend my disbelief. However, Parched is an intense survival story.

Criticisms aside, I haven’t seen too many stories explore drought. For that reason, Parched is still an interesting enough of an adventure to add to your reading list.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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