A review by backonthealex
Soonchild by Russell Hoban


From the Publisher:
Somewhere in te Artic Circle, Sixteen-Face John, a shaman, learns that his first child, a soonchild, cannot hear the World Songs from her mother's womb. The World Songs are what inspire all newborns to come out into the world, and John must find them for her. But how? The answer takes him through many lifetimes and many shape-shifts, as well as encounters with beasts, demons and a mysterious benevolent owl spirit, Ukpika, who is linked to John's past...

My Thoughts:
In Soonchild, Russell Hoban has given us contemporary myth-making at its best. Based in part on Inuit mythology and in part on Hoban's incredible imagination, then perfectly complimented with the wonderful illustrations of Alexis Deacon, it is a concoction not to be missed - if you like myth-making that will take you on a journey away from time and space as you know them.

Sixteen-Face John is a shaman in the far north where it's "so cold that your nose hairs get still and your eyeballs get brittle and your face hurts and your hands will freeze if you leave them uncovered for too long."

Sixteen-Face John may have been a shaman, but he is afraid of everything and if he couldn't face his fear with one face, well, he had 15 others to choose from. Sixteen-Face John is married to No Problem, who is pregnant with their Soonchild (so called because it is soon to be born and be a child.) But Soonchild tells her father that she does not hear the World Songs in her mother's womb and so is unwilling to be born. Now, Sixteen-Face John must go on a journey to bring these songs back to her.

On his journey, Sixteen-Face John will become No-Face John, Three Times Dead John, he will shape-shift, and meet an idluitok, a bad-person gull who feeds the Master Song containing the all the World Songs to Yiwok the World Swallower, who wants to destroy the world by swallowing everything in it. But in the end, John, and the reader, sees the importance of our connection to our past, present and future.

Sound confusing? It actually isn't. Soonchild does require a little suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader, but that is true of all storytelling, isn't it? And you feel somehow renewed when you have finish it.

I found Soonchild to be funny, strange, beautiful, weird and satisfying all at the same time - sort of like the different aspects of the World Songs. And Sixteen-Face John, afraid of everything, must face the biggest most fearful thing of all - Yiwok the World Swallower - showing us that courage is really about being afraid but doing what is right regardless.

Interestingly, the pages change color each time the story moves forward. As you read, you might was to pay attention to why that is a part of the story. And do dwell on the excellent charcoal and pencil illustrations that add so much to the whole story.

I loved Soonchild but it probably isn't for everyone. It is supposed to be a YA book, but some critics have questioned that. I think that, like all good myths, it will appeal to YA readers as well as adults. It is most unfortunate the Russell Hoban passed away shortly after he finished this and one other book in 2011. Hoban was an American expat who had lived in London since 1969.

This book is recommended for readers 14+
This book was obtained from the publisher.