Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Sound Bender

Sound Bender

Lin Oliver, Theo Baker
For ages 12 and up
Scholastic Press, 2011   ISBN: 978-0545196925

Many people like to collect things. They collect stamps, sports memorabilia, stuffed animals, books, baseball cadrs, and all kinds of things. Leo Lomax collects sounds. For years now, he has collected the sounds that he hears around him, recording them on a mini recorder that he carries with him at all times. Leo’s father supports his son’s interest, listening to the sounds his son acquires. This is not altogether surprising because Leo’s father also collects sounds, though in his case he collects the sounds of music from places all around the world.

Until just a few weeks ago Leo and his brother Hollis have had a happy life. Then their parents died in a plane crash, and now Leo and Hollis are going to go to live with their Uncle Crane. So, early one morning, Uncle Crane’s chauffer picks them up from their Manhattan apartment, and the boys move to their strange relative’s home, which is in an enormous warehouse in a very rough part of Brooklyn. Most of the warehouse is used to store Uncle Crane’s collection of “artifacts,” valuable items that he has acquired and that he sells to the highest bidder.

When the brothers get to the warehouse, Uncle Crane shows them around a little and then he tells Leo that a package was delivered for him. It is Leo’s thirteenth birthday and he thinks that maybe his friend Trevor sent him a gift. He soon finds out that the gift is from his father.

In the package, there is a letter, and a strange small blue record. In the letter, Leo’s father explains that Leo was not actually born in a New York City hospital. Instead, he was born on a tiny island near Papua New Guinea. Dr. Lomax was there studying a tribe of people who had been cut off from the outside world for thousands of years. The gentle tribes people communicated in a language that is more like music than anything else. After Leo was born, the shaman of the tribe did a ritual so that he could find out Leo’s name, and after many hours of dancing in a trance he told Leo’s father that Leo’s ancestral name is sound bender. The shaman told Leo’s father not to reveal Leo’s ancestral name until Leo was ready to hear it, on his thirteenth birthday.

When Leo touches the small blue record, something very strange happens. He starts to hear sounds in his head that he cannot explain. After this frightening event, several of the things Leo touches produce the same effect. When he touches the tusk of a woolly mammoth, he hears “the muffled trumpet of an elephant,” and when he picks up a pen belonging to a girl at school, he hears a man’s voice saying, “Merry Christmas, honey.” Somehow, Leo is able to hear sounds from the past through the objects he touches.

One of Leo’s friends is able to arrange for Leo to use a special machine that will play the strange record, and Leo hears the voice of the shaman who found his name. He is told that he is “connected to all people, all life, all things through the music of their souls.” Later Leo and his friend Trevor explore Uncle Crane’s collection to see what will happen when Leo touches some of the items, and the boys come across something that is “radiating evil.” It is a helmet of sorts that is covered with wires. When Leo touches it, he hears a cry for of pain and fear and he hears underwater sounds.

Leo sets about trying to find out what the sounds mean, somehow knowing that there is something very important that he has to do.

Readers will find it hard not to get caught up in Leo Lomax’s extraordinary and captivating story. They will see how this young man is forced to come to terms with a strange gift that he has, and how he finds the courage to do things that terrify him.