I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Stay Where You Are And Then Leave by John Boyne
Published by Macmillan on 2014-03-25
Genres: Diseases, Illnesses & Injuries, Family, Health & Daily Living, Historical, Military & Wars, Parents, Young Adult
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The day the First World War broke out, Alfie Summerfield's father promised he wouldn't go away to fight—but he broke that promise the following day. Four years later, Alfie doesn't know where his father might be, other than that he's away on a special, secret mission. Then, while shining shoes at King's Cross Station, Alfie unexpectedly sees his father's name on a sheaf of papers belonging to a military doctor. Bewildered and confused, Alfie realizes his father is in a hospital close by—a hospital treating soldiers with shell shock. Alfie isn't sure what shell shock is, but he is determined to rescue his father from this strange, unnerving place. . . .
John Boyne’s Stay Where You Are And Then Leave is a quiet gem of a book. To me, it does not shout with action or over the top prose, instead it whispers a subtle story of family and love where you lean in to hear and listen just a little bit harder than you normally would. Not to get all weird on all of you, but that’s probably the best way I can describe this book. Stay Where You Are And Then Leave is a historical fiction book that can be classified as middle grade, but hopefully will appeal to readers of varying ages. Speaking for myself, this was a book that found it’s way into my heart and is one that spoke to me.
The book opens with Alfie having a birthday party. He is turning five. Everyone from the neighborhood is there, including his best friend Kalena, his grandmother, Old Bill, and more. Unfortunately, a damper is put on Alfie’s party when the news breaks out that war is on. You see, Alfie’s birthday marks the beginning of World War One. Unfortunately for Alfie, his father named Georgie, a milk man, decides to join up immediately. And so, the book flashes forward about four years and Alfie and his mother, Margie, have not heard a word from Georgie. Margie says it is because Georgie is on a secret mission and thus he cannot write. Everything is different at home for Alfie, his mother is never there because she is always working at the hospital. They do not have quite as much food as they used to. Kalena has moved away. Alfie only goes to school twice a week. On the other days, he spends his time at King’s Cross station shining shoes and giving most of the money to his mother, subtly, and socking the rest away in his drawer. By chance, he discovers that his dad is in fact, not on a secret mission, but back in England, in a hospital. Alfie then concocts this huge escape plan for his father, believing he can save him. And don’t worry, I totally did not spoil you if you read the official summary of Stay Where You Are And Then Leave.
What gets me about Alfie and what wins me over to his character is his earnestness. That kid tries so hard to help his family, taking on an almost adult role at the age of nine. It’s a heartbreaking reality of some children, that they don’t always get to just play the child role, but sometimes act as adults. I loved that Alfie thought Robinson Crusoe was the best book ever and reads it over and over again. I love that he just makes this big huge plan and acts on it without really thinking it over. He’s an impulsive, imperfect kid. I loved seeing him change as a result of the war. I loved that his character starts the book so innocent and naive but over the course of the book, comes of age. If you like character development, I think you might really like Alfie.
Stay Where You Are And Then Leave covers some pretty heavy topics. First, World War I. I am someone who has mostly read books about World War II, that’s always been the more interesting war to me. Granted, I have read All Quiet On The Western Front, but still, World War II is more my thing. However, I think that Boyne does a superb job bring World War I era London to life. He does a good job bringing in elements that I never even knew about, like young women giving men out of uniform white feathers to signify that they are cowards. And the whole hoping the war will be over by Christmas, even though it never is. There’s a character in the book who is a conchie, which doesn’t mean someone who carries a conch shell a la Piggy, but someone who is a conscientious objector. It’s sad that people who are opposed to the violence are treated as though they are cowards. The book also covers shellshock, or what is more commonly known as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). I am not entirely sure how accurate Boyne’s portrayal of shellshock is, but he certainly delves into how this is something new and they haven’t really treated it before. It’s kind of interesting to me, the parallel between shellshock of yesteryear and today. Really, I am left thinking we need more mental health support for those who fight in wars. Anyways. This book weaves together serious elements in a way that does not overwhelm, but made me think and consider. Also, the last line? I loved it.