Saturday, February 2, 2019

Humming Whispers- Angela Johnson

Humming Whispers by Angela Johnson is a book that's been hanging out on my TBR list for probably close to ten years now, if not more. I used to be one of those people that added books and then just never read them, until I realized how stupid that was, and that I wasn't learning anything from those books by not reading them. I'm now starting Year Three of reading my TBR list down, and this was next up.

Sophy is a dancer who attends a performing arts high school in Cleveland. She lives with her aunt, who makes tofu for a living, and her sister, who is older than her by ten or eleven years and who is schizophrenic. Nikki hears voices, acts erratically, and has a nasty habit of wandering off and disappearing for months. Sophy feels a deep responsibility for her sister and spends the majority of her free time watching over her, but now that she's a teenager, she's frightened that the disease that stole her sister at this age is coming for her too. To cope with the stress, Sophy shoplifts from nearby businesses.

That's really about it. There isn't much of a hard-hitting plot here, just a drawn-out description of the grittier side of Cleveland and Sophy's day-to-day life. There's no, "THIS happened, so we did THIS, and then because of that THIS happened and then everything went wrong but we fixed it by doing THIS." Everything just meanders from one day to the next. There's no long-term care plan for Nikki, no look to what the future really holds for her or Sophy; the book just kind floats to a close. At one point, Nikki goes missing for several months and there's no description of the panic the family must have felt, just a blasé, "Eh, she'll turn up soon, she always does," followed by a leap forward in time to when she is found. The book was published in 1995; in YA terms, that's pretty dated and it shows, both in the style and in the way it fails to truly connect the reader to Sophy's fear and Nikki's illness.

The one bright spot was Reuben, Nikki's devoted boyfriend. He's part of the support team, playing his saxophone to make her smile, searching for her when she's missing, by her side in the hospital after she's found. His devotion never wavers, and I enjoyed his scenes.

This wasn't quite a win for me. I don't know that the book has aged all that well in terms of being able to draw in teens today, and the style alone failed to captivate me. If you're looking for YA books on mental health, Goodreads has a decent-sized list of them (I've read...a lot of these). I'm definitely interested in checking out Ms. Johnson's picture books, though. She has quite a few of them on her website, and we're making a stop at the library on Monday for new picture books for my daughter!

Visit Angela Johnson's website here.

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