Saturday, September 12, 2009

Book Review: Sonny's House of Spies by George Ella Lyon

Book: Sonny's House of Spies
Author: George Ella Lyon
Published: 2004

When Sonny's daddy left, he said, "A man can't live in a house of spies." But seven years later, thirteen-year-old Sonny feels as if he has no choice but to spy. Nobody will tell him anything, and there are so many things he doesn't understand. Where did his father go? Why did he go? Is he ever coming back?

Over the course of one summer, Sonny will come to the realization that the answers about life, his family, and his father are at least as complicated as the questions. Understanding them--and himself--is a process that could take the rest of his life.

Longtime readers of this blog will know that I generally don't snip passages, but Lyon has such a gift for quirky-yet-evocative description that I kept wanting to mark passages to include in this review. (Note to other librarians: no, I didn't actually mark the book. You can breathe.) This one particularly stood out:
We just stood by the shiny gray coffin with its handles like fancy toilet-paper holders and . . . breathed whatever breaths came by: mint, onion, tobacco, whiskey, and bad.
This isn't the generic sadness of a funeral, but a sharp eye for the experience of a person near the center of all that ceremony.

The plot hinges on setting--the 1950's, in Alabama--and the specific prejudices and beliefs that go along with that. Even today, the man who leaves his family because he's gay is in for some trouble, but back then, it was the kind of thing that could cause any number of little worlds to fall in, which it does in this book.

I wasn't entirely sure we needed the race-relations subplot--it felt sort of obligatory for a book set in 1950's Alabama--but it did intensify Sonny's growing knowledge of the complexity and unfairness of his world.

With Sonny's House of Spies, George Ella Lyon brings a particular time and place to life while telling a universal story about the hard questions we all confront sooner or later.

1 comment:

George Ella Lyon said...

Thank you for taking my book to heart and writing about it!

For all our voices,

George Ella Lyon