The Harlan family, known for their affluence and their best-selling pecan pies, appears to be the perfect family. But thirteen year-old Anniston knows that isn’t the case. Thanksgiving night, her family comes apart at the edges, frayed from years of deception, buried secrets, and broken hearts. A domestic shooting takes the lives of two of the Harlan men—Cole, the first-born, illegitimate son of Princella Harlan, and Rey, Anniston’s beloved father. Devastated by the violence, the loss, and the town-gossip, the Harlan family strives for normalcy, though Comfort, the third-born, no longer leaves the house. As Anniston begins to learn more of her family history, she finds strength and faith, instilled by her father’s memory, and a desire to bring hope and love to the most desperate of people.
The setting of this coming of age novel is vivid and engaging. The Harlan family has run their pecan plantation for years, and reading about their land and the small town surrounding them—including the biases, misconceptions, and gossip that shades every conversation—is realistic and engrossing.
Written in rich, descriptive language, Amy Sorrells tells the Harlan’s story through changing viewpoints. Through Anniston’s point of view, we learn all the secrets of the family as she does. Through Comfort’s story, we learn all the heartache and wounds that plague the family. Both women are strong, engaging characters with moving stories and beautiful voices.
Sorrells doesn’t shy away from difficult subjects, and she writes beautifully about characters dealing and healing from rape and abusive relationships, as well as judging people before you know them, suicide, alcoholism, and the dark, dangerous sin of gossip.
The opening pages of the novel are heart-wrenching and sudden, leaving the reader shocked and dismayed by what she has read. While the events were engaging, it was jarring as a reader to have so much happen right away, and it also made the pacing drop off afterward. The story slowed down dramatically afterward, dipping into the everyday life of the characters dealing with the aftermath. Then, toward the end of the novel, the events seemed a bit cinched in, too tight to allow the characters to breathe and respond.
With the emotionally heavy content, some of the storylines get a bit lost in the upheaval. For one, Anniston’s summer love with foster kid Jed who works on the farm, disappears part way through the book, leaving the reader to wonder how Anniston is coping with the loss of friendship. These are minor, subjective issues.
Note to the reader: Because the novel deals with multiple emotionally heavy situations and storylines, there is some content that is a bit graphic for younger readers. In addition, there is some strong language and innuendo.
How Sweet the Sound is a stunning coming of age novel with real characters, true stories, told through rich storytelling. If you enjoy character-driven fiction with a message of grace and hope, this is a book you won’t want to miss.
Get your copy of How Sweet the Sounds through David C Cook or at your local library!