This a non-fictional story by Linda Sue Park. It is a combination of two different experiences. The first is about one of the South Sudan Lost boys named Salva Dut. Salva is a pre-teen who was wandering with some war victims during the Second Civil War in Sudan.
The plot begins with Salva in a daydream during an Arabic class. He is sent back to reality with gunshots. Their teachers tell them to run to the bush instead of their homes. Salva meets a number of his companions while moving away from the violence and the sounds of armies. They have to fear being forced to join the fight as well as losing their lives as a result of the war.
First, Salva meets his first group who end up leaving him in a barn while he slept. He meets an older woman who like himself, was Dinka. The woman is kind and feeds him with peanuts. The fight gets too close to them, and the old woman decides to leave. However, she finds another group that Salva joins.
Salva is constantly worried about his kin. His uncle Jewiir meets the group Salva was part. Jewiir was part of the rebels and carried a rifle. He soon becomes the leader of the group. He is eventually shot by a group from the Nuer tribe but manages to give Salva a crucial lesson; that one can get through the worst experiences by setting minor goals and working through them.
Salva encounters a lot of horrific challenges as he moves from through different camps by walking swimming and canoeing. A good example is when a lion slaughters and carries away his friend at night. He survives a deadly swimming encounter against alligators during a time when swimming was a must option. He also comes across dying men in the desert where he sees kindness from women who offer water to them.
In New York, Salva resumes English lessons. Micheal, a helper, taught him some in an Irish camp. Salva goes on to attend junior college, and this is where he decides to help his people back in Sudan.
The Second Story is about Nya, a Nuer girl also young; whose tribe were enemies with the Dinka. She struggles to carry her family water daily. Her sister gets very sick from having to drink the polluted water. There comes a day when some men get to the village and drill a well. This becomes a source of joy and hopes to the residents as it will cause a great change in their lives. At the end of the novel, Nya asks the leader who he was, and it turns out it was Salva.