14 July 2008

Sonny's House of Spies

Sonny's House of Spies
George Ella Lyon (5/5 Stars)
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Atheneum/Richard Jackson Books (May 25, 2004)
Recommended: Grades 5-8

It's 1947, in a small town in Alabama and Sonny's dad has just walked out on them. "You don't know my daddy," the book begins, and Sonny tells the reader of the day his life changed. He knows there has to be something more to the split up than he has been told, and it puzzles him. A few years go by, and the reader sees small town Southern life through Sonny's eyes as he tries to handle his own life without a father, as well as every day living with his sometimes funny, sometimes difficult family. Sonny deals with heartbreak, pain, and love, familial and otherwise, and at last finds peace within himself regarding his father.

Sadly, this brief synopsis does nothing for the book. Telling a skeleton outline of the plot with no spoilers and none of Lyon's amazing writing is so unjust! This is an amazing book, with prose that sometimes verges on poetry. Lyon had me laughing out loud with Sonny's predicaments on one page, near tears on another, and spellbound from the sheer beauty of her language so often. She captures the feel of the South so well and so subtly that there are bound to be references that will pass by those uninitiated to Southern culture.

I couldn't NOT share a few lines that caught me especially:
"It was a sleepy kind of morning, the air like bathwater."

"Like some reversable cloth, Mama's laughter flipped over into sobs."

"We just stood by the shiny gray coffin with its handles like fancy toilet-paper holders and said "Yes" and "No" and "Thank you" and breathed whatever breaths came by: mint, onion, tobacco, whiskey, and bad."

"All the windows had been propped open, but it was one of those afternoons when the air lay on top of you like a big cat, and no waving of cardboard Jesus-at-the-door fans could make it get up and move."

My main regret is that I fear the intended audience will not be interested in the subject and that some of the emotional dimilemas may really be too mature for grades 5-8. It would be more appropriate, I think, for older YA readers. I would suggest that a parent of younger readers read it first (I give it a full recommendation for all adult readers) and then decide when/if it's appropriate for their child at that age.

Another quibble is that the dust jacket blurb is not very appealing; I only chose to read it because it took place in the South and I needed another book for my Southern Reading Challenge. I really can't see a child picking this up and saying, "oh, this sounds just what I've been wanting to read". It will most likely take an adult pushing it on them to get a child to read it. A new, more interesting cover would be advised.

But, as far as the book goes. . . It's a five star read for older YAs and adults. Masterful writing all the way through; I will be looking up her other novels right away.



Blogger Debi said...

Oh Medbie, what a wonderful review! You sold me completely! Headed to the library this morning anyway...sure hope they have it!

8:53 AM  
Blogger Medbie said...

Hope you can find it--I'd like to see what other people think about it!

1:35 PM  
Anonymous weaverwoman said...

Dear Medbie,

I'm the author of SONNY and your review has lifted my heart on this story July morning. I just found out last week that Simon and Schuster has moved SONNY to print-on-demand status. Since it takes six weeks to get the book that way, sales are pretty much dead, yet I don't get the rights back.

So it is particularly life-giving to read that a reader found it, got it, took it to heart, and is sharing it. And that your words sent someone else to the library to look for it.

Thank God for reviewers like you and for libraries!

I still miss Sonny and Loretta, and it makes me smile to know someone else is meeting them for the first time.

All my thanks and best wishes,

George Ella lyon

8:10 AM  

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