Soonchild by Russell Hoban

casualskimreader's review against another edition

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adventurous mysterious reflective fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? N/A
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes


I found this book incredibly interesting.

The structure of my edition also added to the chaos of the storyline. Chapters started mid page and some pages just had images.

My favourite part of the book was its ability to weave Inuit mythology and the modern world in way that highlights it’s complexity but makes it understandable. I appreciate that every spirit such as Sixteen Face John, Nanuq, Timertik, Ukpika, etc. had their moment in the book. It is explained who they are and how they contribute to John’s journey to finding the songs of the world. I am unsure how much of Hoban’s own imagination is woven into this book but I did find it fun to read.

A smaller aspect I really liked is the onomatopoeia. All of it assisted to engrain me into the world of the North as well as John’s Dream Brew trance.

Another aspect I enjoyed was the names of characters and how they perfectly describe each character. Some names are more practical. Soonchild is called soon child as she is soon to be born and characters such as Mr Ugly highlight his crudeness.

This book also plays with some epistemological questions and has an Everyman type of story structure. John’s journey is spiritual and individual but it is representative of the philosophical journey that we take to help people we love and face our own internal battles.

I appreciated that all the shamans had questions for names. This highlighted that they were wise people as well as reminded me of questions posed in a philosophy class as well as questions that would be asked by young children such as “Where is it?”, etc. Also these names/questions are reminiscent of actual philosophical questions.
Soonchild doesn’t want to come into the world because she doesn’t know if there is one. This reminded me of Descartes   Meditations. Descartes was famous for this work as it delves into how can we tell what is reality and if things exist. John’s journey is a similar concept. He goes on a journey/into trance to help assist another individual to prove that the world is real. It differs to Descartes in the sense that John is able to pass on his understanding of reality to Soonchild whereas Descartes’ work could only be used to prove to yourself if you are real and experiencing life but you can’t be sure/convince another person that you exist.

In addition to reminding me of Descartes, this journey that John goes on helps him remember his position of shaman, face his fears and restore his sense of reality. This is similar to the morality play Everyman.
(I might be rusty with my history and dramatic arts theory) In the play, Everyman is representative of all people and the journey he goes on brings him closer to God and faith. Along his journey he meets characters that embody Christian values and they assist his journey. The purpose of morality plays such as Everyman is to help educate people and assist them in understanding and conceptualising philosophical ideas and religious ideology. Reading this book, it is clear that Hoban mimics this sort of storytelling (knowingly or unknowingly).

Alexis Deacon’s illustrations added to the story. His illustrations assisted me with visualising a journey that is quite fractured and downs necessarily logically follow. It is a journey in trance so we go from one character to the next quite quickly and change location often. So, the illustrations helped me with following the journey as well as highlighting some of the questions physicality of the spirits as well as tension. My favourite illustrations were:
Yarluk, Timertik, Nanuq, Ukpika, the wolves of John, the ritual and the journey through the Long White Alone. I think these illustrations managed to get emphasise the power of the spiritual beings as well as how frightening John’s journey is particularly John’s wolves as well as the Long White Alone. The wolves sometimes have human faces and look deformed and the laughing spirits and figures in the Long White Alone were ominous and creepy. They captured various characters that John had/was going to meet as well as John’s fear in the face of death.

The ending seemed a little short but I enjoyed it. I really like that
Soonchild wasn’t just a representative character but her existence helped the world from ending. We tend to forget that she is the reason why we still have a word yet she’s such an ordinary person and her father helped prevent the world from ending. Idk how to say it but it’s great.

This was a relatively  quick read and the pictures definitely assisted with keeping me focused. The names can be confusing at times but it’s doable if you have minimal distractions. 

wunmix's review against another edition

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I'm not sure what to think but I liked it.

dianchie's review against another edition

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I am adding this book to my DNF shelf.

I really tried to like it but I just could not get past the names and the writing style.

The idea intrigued me but it was hard to get into the actual book. Even though it is a short book, every page felt like a hill I had to climb. It took the same level of effort for me to read this as it does my textbooks. That is not a good thing.

I may try again at a later date but for not it is a DNF.

mangofandango's review against another edition

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A hero's quest tale of the North, with illustration that perfectly matches the tone. I picked this up based on the printed rec from Patrick Ness on the book, and it is a bit reminiscent of his "A Monster Calls", though I would argue that "Monster" is a much better book. But it has a similar mysterious flavor, the illustrations enhance the story similarly. I do not know my Inuit? myth, but I assume that they are the basis for this story. It has a rambling, oral-tradition sort of style, which had good qualities and bad - for me, it made the story drag a lot in places, but the style really fit the tale.

Ultimately, I think this was an interesting experience to have had, and there are beautiful, wise things about it. It wasn't my favorite, but I'm glad I read it.

chelcey_bun's review

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dark mysterious fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Plot
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes


sageorion's review against another edition

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Pure and mystical as the ice and snow. All at once beautiful and creepy, surreal and dream-like, dark and haunting. Soonchild is one of those books that's hard to put down once you've started it. And the gorgeous art really brings it all together and solidifies everything. Just awesome.

annaluzia's review

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so weird and amazing!

satyridae's review

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I love Hoban. This, his last, vastly ambitious fable does not disappoint but is not going to be my favorite. The illustrations are extraordinary. Haunting, exquisite, and resonating. The fable resonates as well, on more than one level. I found it utterly engrossing but I think it's a book that will reward rereading.

ellielabbett's review

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Absolutely bizarre on so many levels, but so wise and makes such sense on many others. 'Soonchild' follows a man called John, who is blinded by fear and has become complacent towards his spiritual responsibilities after enjoying the ease of modern life. John has ignored the spirits, and in doing this has risked them being forgotten and fading out of existence. This is all to the detriment to his soonchild, who needs to hear the songs of the world in order to wish to be born. We follow John's journeys of redemption and amendment, finding himself, restoring his spiritual compass and ultimately trying to recover the World Songs.
I absolutely loved this book. All logic is suspended in a crazy and absurd adventure. Hoban's writing is powerful, melodic and hillarious. Although much of the story is off the planet, it still carries many themes that are quite applicable to real life (despite this being a fantasy/myth)- with the idea of losing yourself and slipping into a repetitive rut being something several will have encountered.
Commercialism is a theme that was quite a minor element to this story, used ironically and comedically in this context, yet I found it to be particularly poignant. We really are overwhelmed by the branding that we take so casually into our lives. Hoban is very witty in this.
The whole story could be buzzing with book talk, there so many elements to discuss and debate. In particular, the 'north'. This is an interesting setting and, I think, a concept in itself that could even be good for Philosophy for Children.
This said, I question whether I would really be able to use this story within Primary School. I think this story is geared a little above year six, with some quite challenging elements to understanding, which is a shame because I feel that this story holds so much. But you never know whether some extremely able year six's might be able to give it a go.
To add to this excellent story, Alexis Deacon's illustrations are superbly mythological, sometimes a little disturbing and others just beautiful. I feel that Deacon and Hoban were thinking on a parallel level- they each compliment each other magnificently.
I highly recommend this book!!

bibliogirl's review

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I really wanted to love this book . I just couldn't find my home inside it. Labeled " genre-defying," I found it baffling. Is it for me? My students? I can't really tell. And it's not compelling enough for me to want to figure it out. I feel sad that I feel this way.

Addition and change:
I have been stewing over this for days, wondering why it bothers me so much that this wasn't the book I thought it would be. I finally read School Library Journal's review and confirmed what I already felt - that it would be great for an academic library. It isn't really written for kids. Reading it for elementary to middle school students,I could not connect with it, and wondered why it disturbed and confused me. I've changed my rating based on my change in perspective - it doesn't miss the mark as a work for children, because it simply shouldn't be considered as one.