Bibliographic Information
Title: The Sound of Blue

Author: Holly Payne

ISBN: 978-0525947929

Publisher: Dutton Adult


Book Details
Jacket Design: Leonard Telesca

Formats: Harsback

Page Count: 336

Plot Summary

A young woman, recently graduated from college, takes a job teaching English in newly-pacified Yugoslovia, or what remains thereof. She discovers that, while the gunfire has subsided, peace has not returned, as a haunted child seeks shelter.

A synesthetic musician and that haunted drummer-child lead the protagonist, Sara, into the eruption of a new round of violence, from which Sara must choose the safety of home or the importance of mattering.

“Refuge is not a place, but a condition of the human heart.”

Critical Evaluation

Sound of Blue is more complex that the typical thriller or war novel. Sara, the nominal protagonist, is also the viewport through which an alien world, riddled by ancient grievances, is presented. As readers, we gain some insight into the conflict, but never enough to understand why these people – these tribes, these antagonists – commit the acts, and atrocities, they commit.

On the surface, Sara gives up the naive idea of teaching English to war refugees, and instead tries to help the victims of war, especially the child, to stay safe and survive. In doing so, we see that she must let go of the safety to which she clings, the middle-class American life, and instead release herself into the maelstrom of the war, and her unconscious, so as to cling to an obsessive but lovable boy and a talented but crazed musician.

The tale is jumpy in parts, starting slowly but optimistically, as many things in life do, and then shifting with the currents of conflict. We assume Sara, as the point of view, is also the protagonist, but the author plays with us in this regard; shifting conflict from Sara to the boy to the musician, and back again. It is possible to see the boy as the protagonist, the one who performs the heroic act that closes the book. However, this slights the inner actions – decisions – that Sara makes, and on which the plot turns.

The novel is not tragic, in the classic sense, nor is it dark. It does convey the shifting scenes of conflict, as if we see war at night only by lightning flashes. Unlike a classic hero-journey tale, Sara struggles more in her decision to save others, and while ultimately successful for both the boy and the musician, still faces a long journey home, and a second journey when she arrives there.

Reader’s Annotation

“Don’t Ever Let Them Tell You Who You Are” – follow three disconnected souls who must learn to define themselves in a world that wants to define, and possibly kill, them for who the world says they are.

Information about the Author

Holly Payne is an internationally published novelist whose work has been translated into eight languages. Her debut novel, “The Virgin’s Knot”, was selected as a Discover Great New Writers and Border’s Original Voices book. This was followed by the equally-successful “The Sound of Blue”. Her third book, Kingdom of Simplicity, was nominated for a national book award and is the winner of a Marin Arts Council Grant, first place winner of a Benjamin Franklin Award 2010 and won Grand Prize for the Writers Digest Self-Published Book Awards 2011.

Payne studied journalism at the University of Richmond, where she received a Distinguished Alumni Award in 2010. She earned a MFA from University of Southern California and has taught throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, serving on the faculty at the Academy of Art University, California College of the Arts and Stanford.

She lives in Northern California with her young daughter, and serves the literary community as a writing coach, publishing strategist and volunteer producer for Litquake. When she’s not writing or coaching other writers, she enjoys getting dirty on a mountain bike and studying integrative and holistic medicine.



Curriculum Ties


Booktalking ideas

How do communities define themselves?

How can inter-community violence be avoided?

Reading Level/Interest Age
Interest Level: Grade 10 and up

Challenge Issues

War crimes



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