1970: Sounder (life can be ruff)

VERDICT: Trash

Sally’s Rating: 2/5

William Armstrong’s Sounder takes a somber look at the relationship between a dog and his master while also combining the themes of identity, loneliness and literacy into a gloomy tale on the perseverance of the human spirit.

This book was one of the most depressing children’s books I have ever read. I went into it without having read the blurb on the book jacket and was not expecting a plot this dark. I cannot imagine a child enjoying this story – with its violence towards dogs, lack of humor and focus on identity and oppression. Sounder is the ideal book to work into a school curriculum around these topics, but it’s a somber tale that needs to be read when one is in the right mood to enjoy it for what it is.

The main issue I had with this book was the narration. Since all the characters remain nameless throughout the story except for the dog to emphasize their lack of identity, it was hard to get attached to the characters of the boy, the mother and the father. While this idea sounds interesting in concept, the execution of this style of writing did not come across well as there is lots of emphasis on description while little attention is paid to the emotional beats. The character’s thoughts and actions came across as soulless and apathetic, which was most likely what the author was going for, but it was hard to stay engaged with the story.

Loneliness was the other big emphasis in this novel. In fact, at some point in the novel, I felt like some iteration of the word lonely showed up every other sentence. That kind of repetition took me out of the story as the prose was not as fluid as it could have been.

As Laurinda mentioned in her review, there is an odd side story that focuses on the boy’s desire to learn how to read. It did not exactly mesh with the other plot points and distracted from the main storyline. Nevertheless, this extraneous plot does infuse the story with a bit of greatly needed optimism and hope for a happy ending.

I would not recommend this novel unless you are the kind of person who loves to read sad books about dogs. I will definitely be skipping the sequel, Sour Land.

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