Stay Where You Are & then Leave - John Boyne

I read one of Boyne's earlier books, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas a long time ago, and then read The Boy Who Swam With Piranhas. This book is definitely closer to Striped Pyjamas, just in case you were wondering.

Young Alfie Summerfield lives with his mother, a busy nurse working during the beginning of WWI. His father has gone away to fight and so Alfie feels that he must become the man of the house, both my helping his mother around their home, but also by bringing in a source of income. And so he sets out to become a shoe shine boy at King's Cross Station. But while shining a man's shoes one day, Alfie comes across some information about his father who is now living not too far away, being treated for an unusual condition. Filled with a mixture of courage, fear, and apprehension, Alfie decides he must find a way to rescue his father and put his home back together.

The book has a meandering feel, and I don't mean this in a negative way, but the beginning takes some time to bring readers into Alfie's life and to show them around his neighbourhood, his home, and his way of experiencing the war and its effects on his community. It takes a while for the main conflict to surface within the overall plot, which will be a detriment to some young readers, though fans of Code Name Verity will probably find this to be of little consequence. The second half of the novel picks up the pace, though, and will carry readers along until the final pages.

Characterization is definitely Boyne's strong suit (not that plot isn't, but in this case, the plot feels less even and solid in comparison.) We see the world and WWI through the eyes of nine-year-old Alfie, and it is emotionally devastating at times, seeing the effects of such a traumatic environment on the life of a child. Within his neighbourhood, Alfie sees people turning on one another routinely as the war rages on (some are taken away, others are shunned, and some return from the front entirely different people. Alfie does not take readers to the battlefield, but his perspective shows the war-torn lives of those around him anyway.

There is a cultural awareness that Boyne also brings to the story, weaving together historical facts of the first world war with an emotional tale of heroism and suffering, which makes the book both difficult to read at times, but also informative and eye-opening, especially for twenty-first century young people who have little understanding of when went on during the two world wars.

All in all, this book is an interesting and enlightening look at WWI through a child's eyes, and even though the opening chapters lag and the emotional tone feels sometimes manipulative, Stay Where you Are manages to balance a number of components in a way that will make the text accessible for younger and older readers alike.

Recommended

(Note: This review is from and Advanced Reading Copy for US Publication - Out March 25, 2014)

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