Our eponoumys hero is born into tragic circumstances. His father has been killed by a madman as he was visiting a A&T after work, his young mother, Dancy, is in the midst of terrible grief and his grandmother Letice is wrecked by guilt as she is convinced that it was her fault that her only child was taken away at only 23-years of age. But Bonaventure is loved, his birth is rejoiced in and he is well-cared for even though he appears to be mute. But there is something very different about young Bonaventure – he can hear every sound in the world!
All that is worth exploring in Bonaventure’s world is acoustic in nature. He can hear the beating hearts of the people around him, he can hear people arguing several houses down the street, and he can hear colors, the terrible sorrow his mother contains in her chest and he can hear the voice of his dead father. Even before he leaves his mother’s womb, Bonaventure is confronted by the complexity of adult emotions (like sorrow, hatred and guilt) because all of these feelings are thrust towards his eardrums and are unavoidable. No wonder he becomes an unusually perceptive child, who remains silent, but is still keen to explore the world and all that it has to offer. Leganski’s writing is colloquial, easy to follow but also manages to capture the beauty of Bonaventure’s world of sounds:
‘Within a year, Bonaventure Arrow could hear flowers grow, a thousand shades of blue, and the miniature tempests that rage inside raindrops. He’d built up a great store of words, every one of them left unspoken, save for those telepathic talks with his father’
His parental figures never suspect that the little boy has an unusual gift, for his muteness becomes their main impression of him. At birth the doctor feared that the baby is stillborn, since it did not cry. His mother fears a mental disability or that he will venture out into the world, get into danger and be unable to call out for help. His religious and strict grandmothers either fear his silence is a punishment from God or believes that the boy simply is not trying hard enough.
‘They loved him just the way he was; they truly did. Even so, both women had begun to move as if caught in a hesitation waltz, paused and quiet and still, one step suspended before taking another. They were listening for a word, a cry, or a bubbling giggle to come from their dear little boy who, at a year and a half, still hadn’t found his voice.’
Despite his Bonaventure’s super hearing, he never really becomes a super hero. This is not the tale of a boy that saved the world or fights criminals. Actually his power makes it difficult for him to effectively communicate with people outside his immediate family and making friends at school really becomes a challenge when his classmates begin to suspect how different he really is from them.
The only person to understand exactly how fantastic Bonaventure’s hearing is and how intelligent he is, is his dead father. William Arrow was a genuinely nice young man, eager to set up house and start a family with Dancy, and his sudden, violent death left him troubled and unable to move on to heaven. So he hangs around and watches his family mourn him, but is unable to comfort them. On the upside, he gets to be present at his son’s birth, gets to see him grow up and even manages to communicate with the baby. Due to the boy’s unusual gift, William gets to parent his son from the afterlife: joke about squirt guns, comfort him when he is sad, help him keep his gift hidden and understand that not every child can hear everything around them. But William also realizes that Bonaventure could be his father’s salvation (literally). There are three mysterious things William must do before he can move on, involving secrets hidden in his mother’s house – if steered in the right direction, Bonaventure might just be able to uncover them.
‘[…] He listened to the dough’s of pfff-pfff breathing, and to the hiss of melting butter, and to the grit-sandy voice of light brown sugar. He was a one-boy audience for objects that liked to tell stories. On this day, a saucepan was telling him about heat his bottles when he was a baby, and how one time Dancy almost caught the sleeve of her bathrobe on fire because it was two in the morning and she was still half asleep.’
Bildungsromans about children with unusual gifts is one of my favorite genres; growing-up is one thing that all humans have in common, wether that process had to happen quickly or not. If it is the case that our childhoods shape who we become to a larger extant than our genes, then of course we will reimagine, reanalyze, revision our own childhoods and that of others – it is the key to who we are. Bonaventure has a legacy that he must confront and cannot escape – the sins of his parents and grandparents and the choices they made will determine his place in the world. The book is in many ways an exploration of how a child can help heal wounds in adults around him/her even though they are not ware of it.
Although it is touching to read about what Bonaventure does for his mother and grandmother, I felt that the book ended far too early. At the beginning, we are promised that we will learn about the person’s life with super hearing, but we only follow Bonaventure for the first eight years of his life. And althuugh it is hinted at what happens later in as the child becomes and adult, we miss out on what happens to Bonaventure as he leaves the protection of his mother, grandmother and dead father to stand on his own in the world. That would have been the most interesting part of the story in my opinion.
But it is still a beautiful and lovely read, that I would recommend to anyone looking for a nice Sunday morning read.