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Sonny's House of Spies by George Ella Lyon

Sonny's House of Spies

by George Ella Lyon

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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. ( )
  Medbie | Jul 14, 2008 |
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In a small Alabama town in 1947-1956, Sonny searches for answers about his father's disappearance, "Uncle Marty," who looks after the family, and Mamby, their black housekeeper.

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