One of my big lifetime dreams came true last weekend when I attended the ALA Midwinter Conference and the Youth Media Awards. The Oscars have nothing on kid lit awards! It was an amazing experience and although I was befuddled initially by the Newbery Medal winner (a picture book?!), I am coming around on that choice after having shared The Last Stop on Market Street with students. They have loved it and wholeheartedly endorsed the Newbery committee decision, which has been rather eye opening for me. Perhaps the kids have a more organic sense of what the Newbery Medal means!
I had been feeling a little bit burned out on reading recently (a new experience for me) but The Sound of Life and Everything by Krista Van Dolzer snapped me out of it. This is a really unique, thought-provoking book and I loved it.
Set in California shortly after World War II, The Sound of Life and Everything After blends the line between historical fiction and science fiction because although it is set in the past, scientists and doctors have discovered how to bring people back to life using DNA. Ella lost her brother Daniel and her cousin Robby in the war; her aunt is determined to bring Robby back to life with the help of the mysterious Dr. Franks. A shocking thing happens, though. Instead of Robby, the person who returns to life is Japanese. Convinced that this man is the one who killed Robby, Ella's aunt wants nothing to do with him. Ella and her mother, though, feel both sympathy and tenderness for this new/old person and they bring him home to care for him.
Their decision is met by outrage by both their family and the community. Xenophobia and racism are the expected reactions to a Japanese man (especially one thought to be the killer of Robby), but Ella remains steadfast in her care for Takuma. Despite the horrific behavior of adults and kids alike, Ella lets her heart feel love for this mysterious being and in so doing, changes her family and her community.
The Sound of Life and Everything feels like such a timely read to me. It asks us how we can transform fear into love and grief into hope. The ending is poignant - extremely so - and the characters are unforgettable and I highly recommend this book!