Review: The Borrower

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.

Review: The BorrowerThe Borrower by Rebecca Makkai
Published by Viking Adult on June 9, 2011
Genres: Contemporary, Humor
Pages: 324
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
four-half-stars

In this delightful, funny, and moving first novel, a librarian and a young boy obsessed with reading take to the road. 

Lucy Hull, a young children's librarian in Hannibal, Missouri, finds herself both a kidnapper and kidnapped when her favorite patron, ten- year-old Ian Drake, runs away from home. The precocious Ian is addicted to reading, but needs Lucy's help to smuggle books past his overbearing mother, who has enrolled Ian in weekly antigay classes with celebrity Pastor Bob. Lucy stumbles into a moral dilemma when she finds Ian camped out in the library after hours with a knapsack of provisions and an escape plan. Desperate to save him from Pastor Bob and the Drakes, Lucy allows herself to be hijacked by Ian. The odd pair embarks on a crazy road trip from Missouri to Vermont, with ferrets, an inconvenient boyfriend, and upsetting family history thrown in their path. But is it just Ian who is running away? Who is the man who seems to be on their tail? And should Lucy be trying to save a boy from his own parents?

First Sentence: “I might be the villain of this story.”

Review:
The Borrower is an utterly enchanting tale, one that I should have gotten around to reading about a year ago. Instead, it had languished on my shelves until I finally decided to apply strict order to my review piles. I don’t know why I didn’t read this right away, because I loved it. If only I had opened the book up and read the very first page, I would have made space in my schedule for this novel.

Rebecca Makkai’s writing is charismatic and charming. Though her storytelling is largely straight forward, first person, she also plays with other styles in ways that are incredibly clever and entertaining. She mixes in, for example, a couple of charts, like ones illustrating how many of the ten commandments and seven deadly sins Lucy has committed. Even better, Makkai mixed in little snippets where Lucy imagines her predicament as told in the form of a children’s book. The only two I recognized the books for were in the style of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie… and Goodnight Moon, but I’m sure an aficionado could identify the rest. These snippets captured Lucy’s humor and her knowledge base so perfectly.

Obviously, I’m a bit biased towards any book whose heroine is a librarian. Lucy works as a children’s librarian, and I loved identifying aspects of librarianship that I recognize from the stories of others. The library parts are so true to life that I really think any librarian will seriously get a kick out of this story, especially children’s librarians.

I think librarians and educators are perhaps especially well-placed to appreciate this tale, since much of it is about the concern for what adults to youth in trying to mold them into a particular type of person. Ian Drake is the ideal child for a librarian; he’s that kid that keeps the librarian motivated and interested in her job, because she so loves encouraging his passion for reading. Ian has one of THOSE mothers, the hyper-religious kind that wants to keep her child from reading anything untoward, instead forcing him to read only books he’s not interested in.

Fearful that Ian might be gay (though he’s only ten, he apparently has some sort of flamboyance that makes them suspect), his parents book him in one of those rage-inducing (to me) anti-Gay programs. Lucy finds out about this and wants to do something, especially as she witnesses the change in Ian, like his reduced interest in reading and the library. Because of this, when Ian runs away, she’s disposed to help him, rather than wrangling him back home when she should. Inadvertently, she becomes a kidnapper, and, while I don’t condone her behavior, I do see how it happened. In this, Makkai walks a fine line between caring and creepy, between humorous and unsettling, and, to my mind, does so very well.

The main focus of The Borrower is one of identity. Ian struggles to find his true self while his nature, his parents, Pastor Bob, Lucy, and everyone he knows try to make him be one thing or another. Lucy tries to balance her American half and Russian half. She desperately wants to be independent from her wealthy, possibly Russian mob parents, so has thrown herself into librarianship because it was the first career to come her way, but she has no idea if that’s actually what she wants to do. Lucy’s father, too, seems to wrestle with his identity and his past through his stories, in which he re-ensvisions his time in Russia. I love this quote on the importance of being oneself and must share it:

   “On my mental instant replay, I realized that obliquely comparing his family to the Nazis was maybe not my finest moment.
He was quiet a second, and then he said, ‘Did you know that Hitler anted to be an artist, but since he couldn’t get into art school, he turned into a Nazi?’
‘Yes, I remember that.’
‘Just imagine if he got into art school, the whole world would be different.’
I said, ‘It just shows that people should be allowed to be who they are. If they can’t, then they turn into nasty, sad people.’
He started to laugh. ‘What if you went to the art gallery, and the guy was like, “Here you see a beautiful Monet, and here on your left is an early Hitler.” Wouldn’t that be weird?’
I couldn’t think of any subtle way to turn it back around again.
He said, ‘You would go to the gift shop and buy Hitler postcards, and you’d go, “Oh, look at this beautiful Hitler. I’m going to hang it in my room!” And people would wear Hitler t-shirts.’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘That would have been better.”

Isn’t that amazing? I just love the way the book was written. Different though they are in some ways, I think this book would make be an excellent readalike for Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. They share a similar whimsy, with young, adventurous heroes who have a unique view of the world. Both cover dark topics but through a sort of humor.

If you like these quotes I’ve shared, by all means get yourself a copy of this book to enjoy. This is a definite must for any book lover.

Favorite Quote:

“I believed that books might save him because I knew they had so far, and because I knew the people books had saved. They were college professors and actors and scientists and poets. They got to college and sat on dorm floors drinking coffee, amazed they’d finally found their soul mates. They always dressed a little out of season. Their names were enshrined on the pink cards in the pockets of all the forgotten hardbacks in every library basement in America. If the librarians were lazy enough or nostalgic enough or smart enough, those names would stay there forever.”

9 responses to “Review: The Borrower”

  1. Umm wow. I think I’m going to have to read this one. It sounds pretty special. Great review and thanks for the recommendation. Adding this to my list.

  2. Thanks for reviewing this! It’s on the shelf directly across from where I sit at the bookstore I work at, and I’ve been staring at it for a week now. Haha. So good to know what’s inside! Honestly, I probably won’t read it (not enough time…)- but I can feel good about recommending it to others now.

    • Christina says:

      I totally get how the review pile can drive reading. This was for review and I still took forever to get there so no judgment! Definitely recommend it to bookish patrons though! Unless you’re a children’s librarian and very close to their child…then it might seem like a threat, haha.

  3. Heather says:

    This book is about a children’s librarian?! I want it right now!

    • Christina says:

      Right? I’m glad you said that, because I was going to make you read this whether you wanted to or not. Of course, I also knew you would want to, so that’s rather a moot point. This is one of three books I want to give you to read. We should arrange a swap: the ones you’ve finished for the new ones. 🙂

    • Heather says:

      Indeed! Maybe this weekend? I saw your post on the thread and it’s too hard to respond on my phone, but I’m definitely interested in the goings-on! Would you also be interested in a trip to goodwill so I can get more prizes for my SRP kids (really wish I would’ve thought of this idea sooner, so I could’ve been amassing a collection for way longer?) I know the answer is probably yes, so I don’t know why I’m even posing that as a question. haha

    • Christina says:

      Hahaha, you know the Goodwill and I are totally tight, so I’m totes up for that. We can go to the one near my house. Their book selection is fantastic! I have some swag and a totebag you can add to your summer reading prizes and a copy of Finn Family Moomintroll. Oh, and I have two copies of The Hobbit, so you can have the other if you want that.

      YAY! I haven’t seen you in FOREVER. (two weeks = forever now)

    • Heather says:

      Yaaay! Thanks for the swag and stuff; so cool 🙂

      It really does feel like forever! haha

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