CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 39. . . .June 6, 2014
Stay Where You Are & Then Leave is John Boyne’s follow-up to the runaway bestseller The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, with this new offering exploring World War I in England. Although the publisher identifies the novel as “Juvenile Fiction”, it reads as oddly difficult to categorize by intended age of audience. As the writing style is naïve, reading level is not a key concern; instead, prospective readers who enjoy a backwards look at childhood and explorations of the limits and potentials in childhood will most enjoy this story.
The story is told through Alfie Summerfield’s experiences of World War I in London in a stark, ostensibly realistic, yet naïve style. While Alfie and his young father Georgie are initially excited by the war, the fun ends once Georgie joins up. The grind of daily survival is hard enough, but when Georgie goes missing, Alfie becomes frustrated and scared. Then, through a series of barely plausible coincidences, he discovers that his shell-shocked father is not missing at all: he is convalescing in an English hospital a mere train ride away. After visiting the hospital covertly several times, Alfie stages a rescue mission and acts alone to bring Georgie home. This even less plausible turn of events results first in trouble, then finally in a happy ending.
Boyne’s attempt to show the hardships of war through the struggles of those left behind at home, the soldiers who became wounded or shell-shocked, and discrimination against pacifists and immigrants (the novel’s two major subplots) is admirable. Unfortunately, the odd timeline in the first few chapters, the affectedly naïve perspective and precious style, and the hard-to-believe narrative twists result in a story that’s more chore than reward to read. Stay Where You Are & Then Leave seems condescending, as though Boyne mistakenly understands children’s books as simplistic and stitched together the elements he believes are meant to comprise a children’s story instead of simply letting the story flow naturally through Alfie’s voice and point of view.
There are too few engaging middle-grade novels about World War I, and it would be gratifying to add more strong contenders to the line-up, especially as curriculum development for the Great War’s centenary requires resources. Unfortunately, Stay Where You Are & Then Leave is not one of the contenders.
Michelle Superle is an Assistant Professor at the University of the Fraser Valley where she teaches children’s literature and creative writing courses. She has served twice as a judge for the TD Award for Canadian Children’s Literature and is the author of Black Dog, Dream Dog and Contemporary, English-language Indian Children’s Literature (Routledge, 2011).
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.