cover image Parched


Melanie Crowder. Harcourt, $15.99 (160p) ISBN 978-0-547-97651-8

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%E2%80%94close to the only one heard throughout this sobering story. Ages 10%E2%80%9314. Agent: Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary Agency. (June)