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Book Review: The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy

Pat Conroy grew up in a South Carolina town where segregation was the norm. After graduating from an all-white high school, Pat went to The Citadel to study. He became a teacher in South Carolina. In 1968, when his idea to join the Peace Corps didn't pan out, he decided to take on a unique challenge. He became a teacher on an isolated island off the coast of South Carolina.

In The Water is Wide, Conroy tells the story of his year teaching on the impoverished Yamacraw Island (for some reason he doesn't use the real name: Daufuskie Island). The conditions are horrible. The children, who span several elementary school grades, are closer to kindergartners in terms of academics. Many don't know the letters of the alphabet. They don't know what country they live in or who the president is. They don't even realize that the earth revolves around the sun. There are few school supplies and the one teacher who is currently at the school is an abusive disciplinarian who thinks the kids have to learn from the textbooks that they can't even read.

The story is written in a way that makes it feel like fiction, but this is actually based on his real experiences. I was appalled at the conditions in which these kids were supposed to learn. Conroy was a bit of a rebel in that he went against school policies and actually tried to teach the kids some fundamental lessons. I found his ideas and dedication inspirational. I was relieved to read this on "Daufuskie Island School is a Beaufort County public school built in 1997. It is a modern facility with 17 students and significant community support, a marked contrast to the conditions depicted by Pat Conroy two generations ago in The Water is Wide." Although it makes me wonder what the conditions were like up until 1997.

My Rating: 4/5

This review was written based on an e-book copy of The Water is Wide that I received from the publisher, Open Road, through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


  1. I read this book nearly 20 years ago and I still remember it as fantastic. It's probably one of the very first memoirs I read (starting a long love affair still going on today). I've recently been worried, as the last 2 Conroys I've read I've not liked, that perhaps if I went back and reread some of these early ones that I wouldn't like them as much, but I'm relieved that you really liked TWiW

  2. I agree with Carin's comment. I loved this book, but have been disappointed in Conroy's most recent work as well. The Water Is Wide is a title that I will have to reread someday.

  3. Great review...I'm going to have to read this book.


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