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Soonchild Hardcover – August 14, 2012
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From School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-In the far north, Sixteen-Face John and his wife, No Problem, cannot convince their daughter, Soonchild, to be born. The spirits have left, and she cannot hear the World Songs of nature. Although John is a shaman, he wastes his time drinking Coca-Cola, watching TV, and reading magazines with centerfolds. No Problem and her friends scrape hides to earn money for videos. To coax Soonchild forth, retrieve the songs, and save the world, John concocts a Big-Dream Brew. In his dream travels, he encounters various animals and spirits that help or hinder his quest. After overcoming fear, dying several times, and spending thousands of years in the spirit world, he retrieves the songs and returns. Soonchild emerges as Here and Now. When she grows up, she forms a band and writes songs that incorporate phrases from John's journey, turning a monumental quest into lyrics that generate celebrity and wealth. Hoban's intent is unclear. Is he paying homage to tales of Native peoples by incorporating characters such as Raven or making fun of them by giving people names such as Where Is It?, Take It Easy, and Way to Go? John's shaman Granny plays poker with her spirit friends and demands vodka and cigars before helping him. Deacon's charcoal-and-pencil drawings, particularly of animals such as the ice bear, walrus, and killer whale, are impressive. Some of the illustrated sequences advance the narrative more effectively than Hoban's words. The book may appeal to adults who enjoy Hoban's novels and will give literary scholars fodder for comparative studies with his other works. Consider as needed for academic libraries.-Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State University, Mankatoα(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
In Hoban's final work, rough-edged characters who speak in prose-poetry hurtle through an Arctic world in which humans, animals, and underworld spirits share a dizzying variety of magical powers... Hoban fearlessly tackles the big questions: the distinction between the real and the unreal, the nature of courage, and the debt humans owe the dead and the unborn. Deacon's charcoal drawings render Hoban's mix of horror and slapstick note for note. Hoban's fans will revel in this last tale of his, and they'll mourn when it's done.
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
It’s sort of a legend and sort of contemporary, it’s both playful and challenging, and it’s equally profound and offhandedly glib. And among its numerous, unexpected joys is perhaps the simplest and best summation of life yet: “It’s one good-bye after another until you reach the Big Hello at the end when That’s All She Wrote.” . . . Deacon’s contributions to the story begin as a few pieces of spot art scattered about the periphery, which then become more integrated and even include pages-long sequences that carry just as much weight and wit as the narrative. Together, they weave a funny and wise tale that will echo with readers for a long time.
—Booklist (starred review)
A lyrically beautiful, existential fable...
Deacon’s charcoal-and-pencil drawings, particularly of animals such as the ice bear, walrus, and killer whale, are impressive
—School Library Journal
These illustrations, combined with the author’s lyrical language, engage the reader in a magical, thought-provoking expedition.
—NY Journal of Books
The story and accompanying pencil and charcoal illustrations are alternately funny, dark and deeply thought provoking. One to pick up again and again, with a timeless message that will re-resonate with each read; a stunning collaboration.
—Midwest Book Review
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p.s. Pay no attention to the review from School Library Journal; Hoban isn't "making fun of" the Inuit with the names he gives John's ancestors, he gets something about their culture - its matter-of-factness, its ingenuity and persistence in a severe climate - that the nervous p.c. sensibility misses in its haste to detect bad intentions.
In fairness, he may just be my favorite author, so my perception may be skewed. I found this short tale appealingly odd, with that literary truth that forces you to read, think, and read again, without feeling oppressed, but rather just curious to know.
I hope this encourages new readers to explore other works, and I think Hoban's fans will appreciate the struggle and ultimate triumph of the story.