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Sounder - James B. Barkley Sr., William H. Armstrong

For more reviews, check out my blog: Craft-Cycle

Growing up, I made it a point not to read books that featured a dog on the cover. That cover usually tells you two things: 1) there is going to be a dog that you invariably fall in love with and 2) that dog will die.

Recently, I found a few of those dreaded books-with-dogs-on-the-cover in the Lending Library and figured it was about time I read some of them.

I was a bit disappointed by this one. Sounder is the only named character. All of the other characters are vague and referred to only by there relationships or age rather than actual names. I can see how this can make it easy for the reader to put themselves into the story or to generalize the conditions to countless other black families throughout American history, however for me it prevented me from getting attached to the characters. I felt for their situations, but they didn't read as real. They were very much just words on the page. Also, by naming the dog and not the people, it felt like a prioritization of the dog so it surprised me when Sounder wasn't as big of a character in the story as I expected.

I can see the value of this in teaching history and various lessons about the criminal justice system, living conditions, and working conditions, however in terms of story, this book was very boring. The plot was slow and uninteresting. I mostly just wanted to know what was happening with Sounder, because again, all the other characters were too vague and two-dimensional.

The Author's Note in the beginning was helpful for context in describing the book as a story told to Armstrong by a black man who taught him to read. This section suggests admiration of the man and served as a nice introduction, but that admiration was not carried on into the actual story. The characters were flat and there was no life in the story.

As Armstrong writes, "It is the black man's story, not mine." I'm interested in how the owner of the story originally told it. I'm sure he breathed life into every word. In this version of the tale, however, that life is missing.