‘The Sound of Life and Everything’: Middle grade historical scifi

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Rating: 4 1/2 stars

“The Sound of Life and Everything” by Krista Van Dolzer is an interesting mix of historical fiction and science fiction. It’s set in post-WWII in a suburb near Los Angeles. The story begins when Ella Mae Higbee, the twelve-year-old protagonist, and her mother discuss an article, or rather a want ad (young readers will have to be told what those are) about a researcher claiming he can grow a person from practically anything — a lock of hair or some blood. Aunt Mildred’s son’s dog tags have some blood on them from when he was killed in the war.

So when Ella Mae and her mother accompany her aunt to a secret research facility, they are surprised that others are also there to witness huge “horse pills” opening and people emerging. One of the people emerging is not Robby, Aunt Mildred’s son, but a Japanese young man. Aunt Mildred is shocked and disappointed and they leave.

But Ella Mae’s mother is made of sterner stuff and after leaving the boy at the facility, she decides that he should be in a home. So they bring him home. Miraculously, the “engineered” people are created as fully functional beings. At least that’s the idea. So Takuma, the Japanese boy, speaks Japanese but not English.

His addition to the household creates all kinds of difficulties. Ell Mae’s father is not happy with the idea of a Japanese living in their home. The Japanese were so recently the enemy that almost all the people in town are not happy about this. The time period is beautifully described from the effects of living before having air conditioning to how prejudiced many people at that time were. Difficulties going to church and even buying Takuma a pair of pants in their little town are documented.

Ella Mae learns about how difficult it is to do the right thing, but she’s lucky to have a mother who leads the way. The book is a great book for bringing up big ideas in a classroom. There are so many big ideas to discuss, including racism and bigotry, themes of family, what makes someone human, and friendship.

Please note: This review is based on an final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Nancy Paulsen Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, for review purposes.