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by William H. Armstrong
This is a still, gentle story about loss, waiting, and searching, set in the Southern U. S. around the turn of the 20th century. It mostly concerns a family circle–particularly the mother, father, and oldest boy–and their coon dog, Sounder. Touched by tragedy and racial injustice, it puts a high value on hope, on the love of nature, and on the love of words.
The story is extremely simple, and not much happens in it, but still waters run deep. The boy’s father is arrested and sentenced to hard labor for stealing food for his hungry children. The boy searches for his father, year after year, hoping to learn of his fate, but learning more important things instead. And the dog, half-crippled, simply waits until its master comes home.
None of the human characters have names. I suppose that makes them universal figures, standing for something in each of us. The boy searches and waits a long time, and learns from many experiences, before he learns what the loyal hound has always known. He moves from grief, through anger and hatred, to acceptance. He becomes strong, he becomes learned, and finally when he finds what he has been seeking–but all too briefly–he learns that nothing remembered is ever lost.
This book won the 1970 John Newbery Medal. It has a sequel called The Sour Land.