cover image Soonchild


Russell Hoban, illus. by Alexis Deacon. Candlewick, $15.99 (144p) ISBN 978-0-7636-5920-2

In Hoban's final work (he died in 2011), rough-edged characters who speak in prose-poetry hurtle through an Arctic world in which humans, animals, and underworld spirits share a dizzying variety of magical powers ("OK, stand back now," says the hero's raven sidekick at one point, "I'm going to disappear into the generations of ravens all the way back to the Original Egg. Be careful not to get sucked into my slipstream"). Sixteen-Face John is a former shaman with a big gut and pants that won't stay up. When his daughter-to-be, Soonchild, refuses to be born, he uses his rusty shamanic powers to bring back the World Songs that will coax her out%E2%80%94though he dies not once, but three times in the process. Hoban fearlessly tackles the big questions: the distinction between the real and the unreal, the nature of courage, and the debt humans owe the dead and the unborn. Deacon's charcoal drawings (seen by PW only in b&w) render Hoban's mix of horror and slapstick note for note. Hoban's fans will revel in this last tale of his, and they'll mourn when it's done. Ages 14%E2%80%93up. (Aug.)