Elizabeth Varadan | The Children’s Book Review | January 7, 2016
Written by John Boyne
Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
Age Range: 9 – 12 years
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Square Fish (2015, Reprint)
What to Expect: A young boy’s coming of age during World War I and its aftermath; examples of courage and devotion; a father’s reaction to post traumatic stress syndrome.
Alfie Summerfield turns five on the July day that war breaks out. When his father, Georgie, enlists, Alfie’s mother is devastated, but Georgie assures everyone the war will be over by Christmas.
Four Christmases later, the war shows no sign of being over. Alfie’s once friendly neighborhood has been changed by the deaths of sons and husbands. Alfie’s granny across the street and other neighbors despise Joe Patience for being a conscientious objector. Alfie’s best friend and her father have been taken away as “persons of interest” because they were from Germany. Alfie’s mother has evasive explanations for why Georgie’s letters have stopped coming.
To make ends meet, she works long hours as a nurse at the local hospital, leaving Alfie to supervise himself. Deciding he has to earn some money as the man of the house, he cuts school to earn money shining shoes at King Cross train station. And there, by accident, Alfie learns his father is a patient at a hospital for shell-shocked soldiers.
The author’s understated style makes this story all the more searing. Alfie is by turns resigned to how his world has changed, and naively heroic in how he plans to remedy things. Boyne’s deft nuances let us see a world turned upside down through the eyes of a nine-year-old struggling to assume responsibilities beyond his years.
All the other characters are beautifully drawn: Alfie’s mother, Margie, who tries to protect him from knowledge of his father’s condition; feisty Granny Summerfield; Joe Patience, a gentle giant. And most of all, Georgie, who has returned from the war stunned out of living, frightened of loud noises, part of his mind still back in his foxhole where soldiers line up to follow each other into certain death. While the story has a hopeful ending, the journey Alfie takes lingers in the mind long afterwards.
“Alfie tried not to laugh. Sometimes adults asked the stupidest questions. He’d never been on a holiday in his life. He wasn’t even entirely sure what you did on one. Was it the same things you did on any other day, only in a different location?”
Stay Where You Are & Then Leave will appeal to middle grade readers interested in twentieth century history, life in England during World War I; also anyone who has had to deal with a parent changed by trauma.
Add this book to your collection: Stay Where You Are & then Leave
About the Author
John Boyne was born in Ireland in 1971 and is the author of seven novels. Boyne’s celebrated The Boy in the Striped Pajamas was winner of the Irish Book Award Children’s Book of the Year, as well as numerous other awards and commendations. It was longlisted for the Carnegie Medal and the International IMPAC Literary Award and was made into a Miramax feature film. His novels are published in over 40 languages. He lives in Dublin, Ireland.
Stay Where You Are & The Leave, written by John Boyne and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers, was reviewed by Elizabeth Varadan. Discover more books like Stay Where You Are & The Leave by following along with our reviews and articles tagged with Middle Grade Books, John Boyne, Oliver Jeffers, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and World War I.