I got Sounder from the library, and put off reading it. I could tell just from the dust jacket that it was bound to be a Dead Dog Book, and I tend to avoid those. I was right, but it was far more and far less than that.
First of all, Sounder is the only character in the entire book who is given a name. The rest are referred to as “the boy” or “his father” or “the red-cheeked man.” This would make you think that Sounder is the most important character in the book, and yet he isn’t. The boy is. I still can’t quite figure out why the author chose to give the dog a name and no one else. Well, that’s not true. I can tell why the people don’t have names; it is meant to be a story that could apply to the experiences of many in the sharecropping days of the South.
So why is the dog special? I’m still not quite sure. He is loyal, of course, and waits for his master – the boy’s father – to return from his sentence of hard labor for years on end. And he is symbolic of…something. Perhaps I just missed the point of the dog. Maybe it is that the book didn’t really do it for me so I not only put off reading it for a while, but then I put off writing this review for even longer and now I have forgotten what I thought the author’s intent was.
So it is more than a Dead Dog Book because it is about a human experience of waiting, longing, unfairness, love, learning, hope. It is less because unlike books like Where the Red Fern Grows, you aren’t as attached to the dog and therefore it isn’t as heartbreaking when he dies. That’s as much of the ending I will give away, and only because the summary of the book reveals it as well.
Even so, I found that I read it quickly (a sure sign of a plot with good movement), and there were a few memorable parts of the book that I can share with you.
“…a human animal, like Sounder…” (p. 30) I love this. Anyone who has had a cat or dog (or perhaps other pets, I wouldn’t know) can relate to this idea that those animals have a human quality.
“The boy liked the woods when they were quiet. He understood quiet. He could hear things in the quiet. But quiet was better in the woods than it was in the cabin. He didn’t hear things in cabin quiet. Cabin quiet was long and sad.” (p. 51) I like this way of thinking about different types of silence.
“‘Go, child. The Lord has come to you.'” (p. 101). This line comes from the mother to the boy after he has told her about meeting a teacher in his journeys who has offered to let the boy live with him while he goes to school. The boy is asking his mom if he may go. What speaks to me about what she says to him is the idea that God can work in our lives through other people.
The boy would not tell her that the teacher had told him that dog days got their name from the Dog Star because it rose and set with the sun during that period.” (p. 103) I didn’t know this! The dog star, I learned from J.K. Rowling, is Sirius. Yes, you can get smarter from reading children’s books! 🙂
“Everything don’t change much, the boy thought. There’s eatin’ and sleepin’ and talkin’ and settin’ that goes on. One day might be different from another, but there ain’t much difference when they’re put together.” (p. 109) An interesting way to look at one’s life. Reminds me of a quote I found on The Happiness Project: “The days are long, but the years are short.” Any particular day has its differences, but the years go by fast because there is a similarity about the days when they are thought of together.
“‘Only the unwise think that what has changed is dead.'” (p. 114) The boy reads this in a book he finds at the teacher’s house. He doesn’t understand it at first, but he does by the end of the story, for reasons I can’t say without giving away the ending.