When 14-year-old Nawra, living in an Internally Displaced People Camp in Darfur, receives a small sum of money from an unknown donor, she assumes a rich widow with many sheep must have bestowed her wealth on her. In actuality, it’s 15-year-old K.C. Cannelli from Richmond, Virginia, after her mother signs her up for Save the Girls, a fictional yet realistic relief organization that encourages a year-long correspondence between young women from the U.S. and Sudan. In Sylvia Whitman’s The Milk of Birds, their initial hesitancy becomes a fierce connection that cannot be separated by oceans, war, poverty or different faiths.
Peppered with wise, traditional sayings, Nawra’s letters describe the destruction of her once-lively village, the murder of its men, the rape of its women and the aftermath that led her and the scant survivors to the IDP camp. A lesser author would have made K.C. a rich, selfish snob who only comes to realize her privilege in light of Nawra’s hardships. Instead, K.C. is a nuanced teen, struggling with a learning disability, fallout from her parents’ divorce and the possibility of a new boyfriend—yet she is responsive to Nawra’s dilemmas.
Nawra and K.C. worry over one another, extend advice and encourage each other’s talents—all the things good friends simply do. Inspired by Nawra, K.C. starts a school club to raise awareness for the tragedies in Africa. Together, these teens offer hope to Darfur.
Readers will feel shocked, outraged and saddened, but like K.C., they’ll ultimately be moved to learn more about Sudan’s ongoing injustices and the people they affect.