Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Stay Where You Are and Then Leave, by John Boyne

Sometimes the best wisdom and perspective on adult issues is best received from the point of view of a child.  Many know John Boyne's work from the moving story of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, which was made into an award-winning film.  In his new book, Stay Where You Are and Then Leave, Boyne tells the story of the home front in London through the eyes of Alfie Summerfield.  He says he remembers the start of the war better than most, since it was on his birthday, and put a damper on the celebration.

The ruined birthday party was only the beginning.  His father signed up and went to the front.  His neighbor and friend, who was born in London and lived all her life down the street from Alfie, but whose father was from Prague, was sent to a relocation camp on the Isle of Man.  His mother worked a double shift at the hospital.  His male teachers went to war, so retired teachers came to fill in.  To help out his mother, who said they are "perilously close to penury," Alfie skipped school several days a week to shine shoes at the train station.

At first, Alfie's father wrote letters from his training camp, then from the front.  Alfie's mother said the letters stopped because his father was on a secret mission.  But Alfie discovered disturbing letters that his mother had hidden, giving a bleaker picture of the war and of his father's state of mind.  When he learns that is father is in a hospital a train ride away from his home, he makes it his mission to bring his father home.

Boyne powerfully communicates the horrors of war, not through graphic descriptions of life and death at the front, although he does touch on that, but through his portrayal of life at home.  It has been 100 years since the outbreak of World War 1, but Boyne reminds us, in a timeless way, of the lessons of that conflict, and the human story of families touched by the terrible finger of war.  This is a book written for young audiences, but, like much great children's literature, deserves to be read by adults as well.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

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