Friday, 6 December 2013

Stay Where You Are and Then Leave by John Boyne

28th July 1914 is Alfie Summerfield’s fifth birthday.  It is also the day that World War One begins and Alfie’s father promises him that he won’t join up.  The next day he breaks that promise and goes to war assuring Alfie that he will be home for Christmas.  Four years later his dad’s letters have stopped and Alfie is told that his dad has been sent away on a secret government mission.

Alfie believes in ‘doing his bit’ for the war and has taken up shining shoes at King’s Cross Station to earn a few extra pennies for his mum.  One day a customer drops a stack of papers which Alfie helps him retrieve and unexpectedly finds out exactly what has happened to his dad!

I have been a fan of John Boyne ever since I read The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and this book further illustrates what a skilled writer he is.  In this book he creates the story of one street in wartime Britain and each character is imbued with a personality that expresses what life must have been like for ordinary people during the uncertainty of wartime.

I really liked the way the book comes full circle.  It begins with his fifth birthday and concludes with his 13th birthday and along the way we see Alfie’s maturation during the difficult war years.  He is an adorable character who, like so many, missed out on much of their childhood and grew up very quickly because of the war.  However, John Boyne skilfully manages to portray Alfie’s childlike innocence  and adventurous spirit through his moving writing.  I was very touched by this particular paragraph:

“More than four years had passed since that day, but Alfie still thought about it all the time.  He was nine years old now and hadn’t had any birthday parties in the years in between.  But when he was going to sleep at night, he did his best to put together all the things he could remember about his family before they’d changed, because if he remembered them the way they used to be, then there was always the chance that one day they could be that way again.”

This novel is poignant, satisfying and ultimately uplifting.  It has a lot to say about the issues and attitudes of the time and portrays a difficult subject matter in a sensitive way.   It would be a wonderful book for older children and young people.  However, speaking as an ‘older child’ of a few decades, I enjoyed this very much and would recommend it for any age.

ISBN:  9780857532930

Publisher:  Doubleday

Price (based on today’s price at  £7.69
This was a review copy from Random House Publisher

Total saving so far:   £81.45

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