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The Sound of Life and Everything

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  232 ratings  ·  66 reviews
A fascinating speculative historical fiction debut set in 1950s California—perfect for fans of When You Reach Me

Twelve-year-old Ella Mae Higbee is a sensible girl. She eats her vegetables and wants to be just like Sergeant Friday, her favorite character on Dragnet. So when her auntie Mildred starts spouting nonsense about a scientist who can bring her cousin back to life
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published May 5th 2015 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
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Krista Dolzer Great question! When the book's first line came to me (about Auntie Mildred not wanting to wash the blood off her son's dog tags), I started thinking …moreGreat question! When the book's first line came to me (about Auntie Mildred not wanting to wash the blood off her son's dog tags), I started thinking about ways that that blood might be significant. That was when I remembered that James Watson and Francis Crick discovered the chemical structure of DNA in the early 1950s, not long after World War II ended, and I knew I'd found the era I wanted to set my story in.(less)

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Average rating 3.91  · 
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 ·  232 ratings  ·  66 reviews

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Krista Dolzer
Nov 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
I think I'm kind of obligated to give this book five stars, but I do love Ella Mae. I've never had to stretch to find her voice; it was always just there. ...more
Mónica Bustamante Wagner
Sep 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I read an early draft of this book, and I LOVED it! The plot is so clever and you just love Ella-Mae. Can't wait to read the final draft! Krista is so TALENTED!! :D ...more
Dec 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 15ers
Ella Mae is a tough, smart girl in WWII-era California whose family is grieving deep loss and trying to carry on. Her aunt has given her cousin's dog tags to a doctor who claims he can regenerate people using just their blood. The man who's regenerated isn't her cousin, though--he's a Japanese man.

The concept is totally amazing, and the story addresses love and family and friendship (on several levels!) and prejudice all from the perspective of a kid I think young readers will find relatable a
Alex  Baugh
Jun 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: world-war-2
It's 1953 and WWII has been over for 7 years. In fact, for most of 12-year-old Ella Mae Higbee's life. Her older brother Daniel had been killed in the war in Europe and her cousin Robby Clausen died in the Pacific at Iwo Jima. And while Ella Mae's mother has accepted the death of her son, her Auntie Mildred hadn't accepted that her Robby was gone for good. In fact, she still holds on tightly to Robby's bloody dog-tags.

So when Auntie Mildred heard about a scientist who could re-create a person wi
Jen Petro-Roy
Apr 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: arc, middle-grade, ebook, 2015
This was fantastic. Newbery-caliber stuff. Honest and heartbreaking, and oh, did I adore Ella Mae and her mother.
Kristina Rasmussen
May 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Elle Mae has got to be one of my favorite characters! She’s sweet and spunky. The author did such a good job of portraying a child’s perspective as sometimes they think they understand something and other times full on recognize they don’t have a clue. She felt deeply and made me feel deeply as I read this. It’s an interesting narrative on how people treat people compared to how we should and the confusion that sometimes comes as we try to figure that all out. It’s definitely science fiction by ...more
Rebecca Petruck
One of the magical things about this book is how it frames a seemingly outlandish scenario (the cloning of a full-grown man in the 1950s) in the deceptively simple idea: What if it happened to my family? By narrowing in on one girl, her family, and the small community, we see so much of the bigger picture of the world. Ella Mae navigates a hugely complex situation with the frank clarity of a child who has two choices demonstrated by her parents: generosity and love, or fear and withdrawal.

And t
Sep 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: middle-grade, arc
I was lucky enough to read an early version of this book a couple of years ago, and now I've just finished the ARC. It was absolutely as fantastic as I remembered--so full of heart, wisdom, and voice. Ella Mae is a spunky, unforgettable heroine, and the plot of this novel is just so original and creative that it blew me away all over again. This one is clearly going to be at or near the top of my list of middle-grade reads for 2015. ...more
Lila Kims
Jan 09, 2018 rated it liked it
It was good. But it wasn't really good, let alone amazing. Maybe I've read too many deep, descriptive YA novels lately and not enough Middle Grade. :P

The writing style flowed nicely, but there was hardly enough detail. I didn't really feel the setting at all. The science fiction didn't blend smoothly with the historical fiction. The ending was a bit rushed and disappointing - Ella Mae's speech was NOT something a 12-year-old would realistically come up with (let alone off the top of her head.) T
Jan 28, 2016 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Abiyasha Abiyasha
I love Ella Mae!! She's such brave, tough and independent girl, yet, she's still act like a girl at her age.

This novel combined historical, drama, family and sci-fi genre and it blended really well, especially how Ella Mae protected Takuma from everything that could be a danger to him. I couldn't help but wondering while reading this book, how the end would be. When I reached the final pages, I just sighed and said to myself, "What a story". This book could have a chance to be very boring and p
Jan 03, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: ya-and-kidlit
Great premise (and great cover art), but a major disappointment on a number of levels. I have no problem with science fiction that is unrealistic (just to be clear on that front), but I do have a problem with a fictional 1950s California town that bears no relation to any real California town that ever existed in any era. The narrator talks in a cutesy-folksy voice that sounds like she's trying to channel Mark Twain. The characters act as though they've never seen an Asian person in their lives ...more
Vikki VanSickle
Nov 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A surprising and thought-provoking book that uses a speculative premise in a historical context, thus creating a fantastic springboard for discussion. Van Dolzer combines contemporary fiction with a touch of sci-fi much like Zilpha Keatley Snyder or Rebecca Stead have been known to do. In a weird way I was also reminded of Flowers for Algernon. This book make me wish I was still involved in kids' book clubs because I would have loved the discussion that came out of it. ...more
Kristen Eckhardt
Oct 18, 2015 rated it liked it
What a strange book--I did not look forward going back to it each night, much to my chagrin! The author writes beautifully, but the story concept is a bit bizarre and I imagine hard for middle grade students to put into proper perspective. I had a hard time suspending my disbelief around the "mad science" portrayed in the book in order to revel in the author's intended messages around love and acceptance. But that's just me--go ahead and see what you think! ...more
Jul 06, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: kids-sci-fi
Interesting premise. A good look at prejudices for kids. Very strong young girl as the central character. I had some problems with the idea that a cloned person would be adult and have memories of a previous life, but it is just a fantasy after all.
May 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Inventive. Love children's literature that makes you think. ...more
I was pleasantly surprised after reading this title. It is a great book all on its own but I have a funny little quirk that if I am familiar with an author then somehow I have lower expectations. Silly me. The book was all that a historical fiction should be. Additionally, it covered a time that I've read very little about. This book takes place after WWII and shows the effects that the war had on a family in California.

Ella Mae lost a brother in the war as well as a cousin. There is a touch of
Oct 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
World War Two has ended and Ella Mae Higbee has had her fair share of loss. Her loved ones have been long gone and she has moved on. Her Aunt however, thinks she has found someone to bring her son back to life. But when the time comes for them to meet her son Robby again, all is not as it seems.
The human brought back to life wasn't Robby. It was a Japanese boy. Ella Mae knows he will be mistreated in the lab so she brings him home.

"The Sound Of Life And Everything" is a compelling story that sh
May 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
The author of this book walked into our elementary's library and donated this book and another one she wrote. I'm so glad that I read this one. It was delightful and had a really interesting premise. The main character, Ella Mae is spunky, and it was fun to hear the story from her point of view. It also brought up some interesting things to think about and some serious issues as well. I look forward to hearing what some of the kids at school think about this one.

2018 Popsugar Reading Challenge:
Frances Enriquez
Apr 23, 2020 rated it liked it
The Sound of Life and Everything was my comeback read after 2-3 years of not leisure reading and I thoroughly enjoyed it until the end. Unlike reading films, it reminded me of the visual freedom there is to reading and I especially enjoyed the world this book painted. It’s historical basis made it interesting enough to spark my interest and thus makes it different from others. Although I would not recommend this to those who obviously aren’t interested in this genre, it is a read waiting to be e ...more
Matt Castello
Mar 06, 2020 rated it liked it
Interesting twist on history. Good lessons to be taught.
Jan 26, 2021 rated it liked it
A middle grade book about racism. The topic is appreciated, and the story was...meh. I enjoyed it enough to finish. Gave it 2.5 stars, rounded up.
Dec 30, 2016 rated it liked it
Interesting book - liked many things about it.
Today seems like a good day to review The Sound of Life and Everything, since February 19 is the Day of Remembrance (and I'm also listening to Echo, which more directly addresses the Japanese-American internment). The treatment of Japanese Americans during and subsequent to World War II needs to be taught about in schools and given much more exposure. Not to mention, it's something that we can learn from today with the way Muslims are treated in America. Anyway, The Sound of Life and Everything ...more
May 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: my-favorites
The Sound of Life and Everything is about a 12-year-old girl named Ella Mae Higbee, living in the wake of World War II. She lost her artistic older brother Daniel and her cousin Robby in the war and has by now accepted the loss. Robby's mother, however, still dearly misses her son and agrees to let a questionable scientist test his new way to bring people back to life. All he needs is Robby's blood on his unwashed dog tags. It quickly turns out, however, that it had not been Robby's own DNA on t ...more
Jarrett Bell
Feb 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
I have such mixed feelings over Dolzer's writing, but yes, it an excellent book. It is a unique combination of historical fiction and science fiction. At times I found myself wanting to read ahead, entranced by the story line and plot twists. However, mostly I was left with an overall feeling of underdeveloped characters, especially in Takuma. The plot at times seemed to slap events just for reader shock. However, I understand that this is a children's book, and is told from the perspective of E ...more
Twelve-year-old Ella Mae Higbee is a sensible girl. She eats her vegetables and wants to be just like Sergeant Friday, her favorite character on Dragnet. So when her auntie Mildred starts spouting nonsense about a scientist who can bring her cousin back to life from blood on his dog tags, Ella Mae is skeptical—until he steps out of a bio-pod right before her eyes.

But the boy is not her cousin—he’s Japanese. And in California in the wake of World War II, the Japanese are still feared and despised
Josephine Sorrell
May 31, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: newbery-2016

The 266-page novel for middle grade readers follows 12-year-old Ella Mae Higbee, a tough and thoughtful girl living in California shortly after World War II. Emotions and prejudices are on high alert since the war has ended.

Cousin Robby has been killed in the war. Ella Mae's Auntie Mildred finds a scientist who claims he can bring her dead cousin back to life using the blood on his dog tags, Ella Mae and her mama get wrapped up in a situation that defies everything they believe. When they are s
Rosalyn Eves
Oct 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This story is a powerful, heart-warming exploration of prejudice, love, and family in post WWII California. Ella Mae Higbee's crazy aunt has found a scientist who thinks he can resurrect her cousin Robbie, killed at Iwo Jima, from some blood on his dog tags. But when Ella Mae, her mother, and aunt show up at the laboratory, it's to find a young Japanese soldier waiting for them instead of Robbie. While their aunt repulses the boy, it's up to Ella Mae and her mother to take him in, and find their ...more
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I'm a stay-at-home mom by day and a children's author by bedtime. I live with my husband and four kids in Layton, Utah, where I watch too much college football and look for my dead people online. I'm the author of THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING (G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, May 2015), DON'T VOTE FOR ME (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, August 2015), and EARTH TO DAD (Capstone, Fall 2018) ...more

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