by Judith A. Hayn
Hoban, Russell. (2012). Soonchild. Illus. Alexis Deacon. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
Russell Hoban, renowned British children’s literature author, passed away in 2011. This is the second to last book he wrote, and it is a masterpiece of weirdness coupled with lyricism. Sixteen-Face John’s story is based on Inuit mythology, and readers will need to suspend belief in concrete reality to appreciate the tale. John is a shaman with major self-doubts and severe depression while his wife No Problem is carrying their first child. Soonchild refuses to emerge, so John reluctantly gives up his Coca-Cola and TV-watching habits to fix the situation.
He undertakes a mystical journey to locate the World Songs that Soonchild needs to own before she can be born. This quest leaves him in pieces (literally; then he is repaired, killed many times in epic battles, and finally left dead for thousands of years as the forces of nature take their toll. As a polar bear spirit tells him: “When you boil up a Big-Dream Brew, you better be ready to drink to the bottom of the cup” (p. 50). His conversations with the animal spirits and with human dead, who are always with us, are peppered with humor as well as insights.
The narrative is breath-taking in suspense as now No-Face John eventually emerges triumphantly as his own man ready for fatherhood with a strong sense of identity. The mind-spirit connection is never forced and what results is a sort of Philosophy 101 for young adults, plus myriad other readers who will be mesmerized by the story. Alexis Deacon’s pencil renditions of both the spirit world and reality add just the right touch of mysticism to this superb piece of Hoban’s legacy.
Dr. Judith A. Hayn is an Associate Professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
This article is part of a series from the Special Interest Group Network on Adolescent Literature (SIGNAL).