Armstrong, W. H. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_H._Armstrong (1969). Sounder. New York Evanston London, Harper and Row.
Sounder is a name of a family dog, a mixture of Georgia redbone hound and bulldog. He belongs to the main character’s father, an African-American who depends on raccoon meat and fur to feed and support his big family with several small children. Sounder possesses a good bark and is a good coon hunter.
One harsh winter, the coons disappear and the father is forced to steal from the local smokehouse. He is found out and the sheriff and his two deputies drive up to their house to arrest him and put him in prison. Sounder is shot and injured badly for chasing after the sheriff’s truck, crawls under the house to nurse his wound, and disappears by morning.
The mother returns the rest of the meat to its owner and comes home with some food she had bought with the money she made from selling walnut kernels. The mother and her eldest son, the main character of the story, keep their hope up for Sounder, hoping that he had gone off to the woods to heal himself by rolling in the leaves and would be back in a week. However, Sounder is slow to return and the mother tells her son that he must learn to lose, that some people are born to lose and it is God’s will. For Christmas, she bakes a cake for her husband in jail and has her son deliver it. She tells him to look perky and not to let his father grieve.
When he returns from his trip to town, the son finds Sounder who had returned. He has lost an ear and an eye on the same side as well as his bark; one foot is dangling, but he is alive. The boy works in the fields in spring, and goes to the prison to inquire about this father in fall when the work is over but his father is moved to a work camp. Several years go by and each year the son goes on a long journey looking for his father. On one such trip, he meets a schoolmaster who offers him a job as his assistant and the opportunity to attend school and get an education.
Later, one summer, released from prison, his father returns as a broken old man. Sounder’s bark returns but his master eventually dies and Sounder’s spirit is broken. The story ends with Sounder’s death but the readers learn that the boy is glad that Sounder is at last at peace.
A sad and beautiful bildungsroman of a young boy with a focus on the lives of his father and his father’s faithful dog, the novel is superb in its storytelling quality.
For all serious readers 4th grade and up.