HUMMING WHISPERS by Angela Johnson


Age Range: 12 & up
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 The slow and melancholy stream of consciousness of Sophy, 14, whose life and thoughts revolve around her older sister, Nicole. The orphaned sisters live with their aunt in a poor part of Cleveland--a tight-knit African-American family, whose emotional burdens are shared by Nicole's devoted boyfriend and his neighbor, a Holocaust survivor. Sophy is a dancer, a student at an art school, with a penchant for hanging out in coffee shops and bus stations. Her narrative, which has little linear movement, loosely follows the ups and downs of Nicole's schizophrenia, jumping back and forth in time, while recording Sophy's increasing instability and fears for her mental health. Life has been unfair to Sophy and everything in it is covered by a veneer of tragedy, which makes the people who are kind to her appear, by contrast, exceptionally good: the aesthetics of rays of sunlight in the midst of a storm. Set against this background of moral extremes, however, the novel proceeds very gently, achieving a complex cumulative effect by means of a layered style. Sophy's monologue is an impressionistic array of unpredictable and idiosyncratic elements--details, snatches of conversations, memories, and philosophical observations--with which Johnson carefully and richly fleshes out the characters, above all the narrator herself. She weaves the innumerable details into a flowing, repetitive, often rhythmic text, made up of simple sentences (no subordinate clauses) that hover between present and past tense, skillfully tailored to communicate Sophy's slightly depressed tone of voice. An ambitious work, as startling in its originality as Johnson's award-winning Toning the Sweep (1993). (Fiction. 12+)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-531-06898-6
Page count: 121pp
Publisher: Orchard
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1995


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