Monday, May 31, 2010

Sonny's House of Spies by George Ella Lyon

I don't know what I expected from this book, but it wasn't this. Sonny's House of Spies opens in 1947 in rural Alabama. Six year old Sonny witnesses his beloved father leave their home after hearing a fight between him and his mother from the shadows and the last thing his father tells him is "A man can't live in a house of spies." From there, Sonny has no more contact with his father and we go forward to the year 1954. The house is now just Sonny, his mother and his older, smart mouthed sister Loretta, and his younger brother, Deaton. With the help of their hired help, a black woman named called Mamby, the family does the best they can to stay together. There's also a new uncle who has made his way into the lives of the family, Uncle Marty. Uncle Marty runs a local church and donut shop and has taken on Sonny as his hired help. He's also offered to help Selma, Sonny's mother as much as he can and almost takes on the replacement father role. But nothing can replace Sonny's father. Sonny has lived through imaginings of what his father is doing, who is father is...and he's heard rumors from others of what type of person his father is and why his father left them. This is a beautiful book that in one page was able to anger me, sadden me, make me laugh aloud, and just put me in a melancholic, thoughtful state. It's set in the 50's for the most part, but it's so relevant to issues that are still prevalent today. Mainly, biases...stereotypes...preconceived notions of things we don't know about, whether good or bad. It tackles specific issues like racism, lgbt issues, feminist issues, gender roles/issues, disability issues, religion issues. So many things are addressed in this one book and they're handled just perfectly. Nothing is ever thrown in your face, nothing is ever there for shock value. It's just a wonderful story...a sad story at times, yes, but wonderful. And it just has this fantastic, hazy feel to it. Have you seen The Virgin Suicides? I haven't read the book, but the feel of this novel reminded me of the same feeling that the movie, The Virgin Suicides gave me. It had that melancholic, coming of age/innocence lost feeling to it. And it takes place in a time where everything just feels so much more innocent. Where there are creeks and peach pies and knee high socks and sweet tea and hazy summers. And the characters are just perfect. I loved Sonny's mind so much. The book is narrated by him, and so we see his thoughts on all of the goings on around him. We hear how he feels about who his father is, about how he feels about having a black woman work for him, how he cares for his little brother. And oh how I loved his little brother Deaton!! So freaking adorable and just the innocence that comes out of his mouth made me want to cry at times. And their older sister Loretta just made me laugh so hard sometimes. And more than anyone, I loved Mamby and her daughter Nessa to death. The wisdom that those two shared was just beautiful and so touching. George Ella Lyon has written a true gem here that I hope gains a larger audience. I can't thank Debi enough for telling me about this book. I wish I would've pulled it off my shelf ages ago. Now I'm imagining all of the other treasures that Ms. Lyon has out there waiting for me to read!

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