Friday, 1 November 2013

Review: Stay Where You Are and Then Leave by John Boyne

Publisher: Doubleday
Format: Hardcover / eBook
Released: September 26th, 2013
Rating: 8.5/10

Amazon summary:

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 realises his father is in a hospital close by - a hospital treating soldiers with an unusual condition. Alfie is determined to rescue his father from this strange, unnerving place...


Any book written about the first and second world wars automatically makes me sad right from the offset. These two events in history were so horrific for all involved and, even now after years of my own research, I still can't comprehend what went on. Whole generations of men were destroyed, millions of lives were lost and families were broken, all so we could one day have the freedom we have now. These brave men fought for us and, like Alfie's dad in Stay Where You Are and Then Leave, they suffered for it in the most horrible ways imaginable.

John Boyne is no stranger to writing about our world wars; he's the author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, a bestseller and a must-read for book lovers. Stay Where You Are and Then Leave is set during the First World War; it starts on Alfie Summerfield's fifth birthday when war is announced and his beloved father, Georgie, immediately signs up of his own accord. Alfie and his mother Margie's lives are changed immediately, and not for the better. Georgie is missed, Margie works every hour she can and even Alfie does his bit by shining shoes at King's Cross station. He meets a variety of colourful characters, ranging from a doctor to a young man heading to his brother's funeral. It's heart-wrenching stuff,ace even worse by the realisation that this all actually happened between the years of 1914 and 1918.

Shell shock is heavily featured in this book - a condition suffered by many soldiers, but which wasn't widely recognised and instead mistaken for cowardice - as is the decision to not join up to the war effort at all. Children reading this book will learn an awful lot about WWI, about the effect it had on children, wives and parents and the community as a whole. It shows the horrors of war as well as the aftermath, when soldiers are trying to rebuild their lives and return to something like normal. It's all as sad as it sounds, but it's uplifting too, like maybe everything really will be ok for Alfie and Georgie and Margie and even grumpy old Granny Summerfield.

Stay Where You Are and Then Leave is beautifully written, as are all John Boyne's books for children. Although it's a book aimed primarily at younger readers, it's equally as satisfying for adults, and should be widely read by everyone. Millions of men went through what Alfie's dad goes through; some suffered more, some suffered less. Some survived, some died, but every one of those men went to that war believing what they were doing was right and, ultimately, necessary. Through Alfie, a heroic little boy with a fierce love for his dad, this book takes us back to a time when nothing was certain and everything was at stake. Extra special thanks are owed to all the men who fought in WWI and WWII and the women who helped in other ways - without you, we wouldn't be here now.

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