Sound Bender is a fast-paced middle grade / middle school novel with an intriguing premise. On his 13th birthday, Leo Lomax learns that he has an unusual talent. When he touches certain objects, he can hear their past. After Leo's parents are lost in a plane crash, he and his brother are sent to live with his father's wealthy stepbrother, Crane. Crane is an importer of mysterious and valuable objects. Leo's ability, mixed with Crane's treasures, sparks a globe-trotting adventure (one that appears to be the launch of a new series).
Theo Baker (Lin Oliver's son) has a background as a record seller, a DJ, a record producer, and a sound designer. His enthusiasm for all things sound-related comes through in the characters of Leo Lomax and Leo's mentor, Jeremy (who owns a record store). Leo is a sympathetic character, believably conflicted in his relationship with his younger brother, devastated at the loss of his parents, and compelled to do the right thing. His best friend, Trevor, a tall black kid who chooses to be a scientist instead of a basketball player, is likeable, too. Some of the other characters, like Uncle Crane and his unusual employees, are a bit more cartoonish. But Leo is the heart of the book.
Leo's love of all things sound-related is reinforced from Sound Bender's earliest pages. Like this:
"Hollis shuddered at the very mention of spiders. He is definitely not a big fan of the bug world, never has been. Me, I kind of like bugs, especially cockroaches because they make this little tick, tick, tick sound with their wings when they scurry around in the dark, which I've actually recorded. It sounds cool, like when you click one of your fingernails against your thumbnail." (Chapter 2)
Sound Bender is a nice balance of science fiction and realistic fiction. Leo's gift is plausibly explained, without going into too much detail. Uncle Crane's apartment is like something out of a futuristic movie, but not so far out as to be impossible. The book's action is suspense-filled, but slightly more plausible than the current generation of teen spy novels (Anthony Horowitz, etc.). When they aren't using Crane's limo or private jet, Leo and Trevor take the subway. During their free time at school, they hang out in the library.
Oliver and Baker's writing is more action-focused than literary. But I think that they do a decent job of channeling adolescent boy-speak, without overdoing it. Like this:
"He flexed his biceps, and I saw that he definitely had man muscles. I'd been waiting for mine to pop out for a while now. I know it's all supposed to happen at once ... growth spurt, puberty, man muscles, facial hair ... but so far, even though I'm thirteen, I have nothing to show in any of those departments. Zip. Zilch. Nada." (Chapter 4)
"Hollis blocked me with his body and pushed the button. There was a little whir, then a table made of shiny silver metal descended from the ceiling. No kidding, it looked like a spaceship landing." (Chapter 4)
Sound Bender has an original premise in the idea of sound bending, and an appealing mix of science fiction and adventure novel. There are intriguing gadgets, menacing characters, and (mostly by way of background) cute girls. I think that 10 to 14 year olds, particularly boys, will enjoy it. Recommended for science fiction and spy novel fans.
Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: November 1, 2011
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher
© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).