Review: Stay Where You Are and Then Leave

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: Stay Where You Are and Then LeaveStay Where You Are and Then Leave by John Boyne
Published by Henry Holt BFYR on March 25, 2014
Genres: Historical
Pages: 247
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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three-stars

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 realizes his father is in a hospital close by—a hospital treating soldiers with shell shock. Alfie isn't sure what shell shock is, but he is determined to rescue his father from this strange, unnerving place. . . .

John Boyne has been on my list of authors to try since The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, but backlist titles can be rather elusive. Of course, there’s little to explain why I never read The Absolutist, which I had an e-galley of, as well as an ARC which remains on my shelves to this day. To that, I can only say “Oops.” Let’s just say that my past blogger self was not as well-scheduled as my current self. After my first John Boyne experience, I’m not in love, but I’m also not bemoaning the fact that I own two more of his books already.

Putting it all out there, I actually really struggled with this book in the beginning. It’s slow-moving, not particularly character-driven, and there’s something about the narrative style that just made me feel sort off somehow. One hundred pages in, I was toying with DNFing, not because it’s bad—it’s not—but because I wasn’t engaged. Then I realized I was almost halfway through and decided to push on through to the other side. And you know what? I’m glad that I did. The second half of the book moves a bit faster, because Alfie’s older and actually doing things.

Stay Where You Are and Then Leave starts on Alfie’s fifth birthday, which also happens to be the day that WWI begins. Needless to say, there have been better birthdays. Alfie’s dad enlists on that first day, overwhelmed with patriotism and a need to “do his bit.” The story pretty much just covers Alfie being five and then jumps to age nine, during which time Alfie opens up a shoeshine stand in the train station to help his mom earn money and learns about the secret of what happened to his dad.

Part of what didn’t work for me also made Stay Where You Are and Then Leave really special. Alfie’s the main character in that he’s in every scene, but it’s omniscient narration and the book is more about what happens around Alfie than about him. Like, the bulk of the scenes hardly involve Alfie at all; he’s overhearing conversations or witnessing something or listening to someone talk while he shines their shoes. Usually, a middle grade book is about a personal journey of growing up, but Stay Where You Are and Then Leave is more atmospheric, capturing a picture of the war’s impact on one little boy.

Through Alfie’s convenient location at the train station, Boyne is able to acquaint the reader with a lot of experiences through a young kid. As he shines their shoes, men unload their stories, their troubles. Alfie also witnesses numerous disturbances in the neighborhood, like the rough treatment of Joe Patience, a conscientious objector and the Janáčeks, of Hungarian origin. In fact, these story lines were perhaps most compelling to me, since they’re covering bits of WWI history I didn’t really know about. The way women would give any men who looked like they should be at war feathers to shame them? Wow.

Then there’s the Janáčeks. Kalena is a girl and his best friend. Her father runs a shop. When the war breaks out, they’re shipped off by the government under suspicion as spies, even though they’re not German. Kalena was even born in the US, but they’re apparently not to be trusted. I knew that stuff like that happened in WWII, but I had no idea there was that level of anti-German and -Hungarian sentiment during the first World War.

Boyne ultimately focuses on both the effects of the outbreak of the war and the end of it as well. He puts a focus on the fact that, though a number of men do make it back alive, and maybe even uninjured physically, that doesn’t mean they’re well. The traumas of war are myriad, and Boyne conveys this well, without actually diving into anything gruesome or violent. So, basically, I think Boyne does something very cool, but the style sort of lessened my personal enjoyment at the same time.

Ultimately, I’m glad that I read Stay Where You Are and Then Leave, though it got off to a slow start. Boyne looks at WWI through a very unique lens, and if that is something that interests you, then it’s well worth checking out.

Favorite Quote:

“Janáček, that’s what you said, isn’t it? Austrian, were they? Polish?”

“English. She was born three doors down from me.”

“A curious name for an English girl.”

“Her father came here from Prague

“So half-Austro-Hungarian, half-English then.”

“She wasn’t a fraction.”

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

boy in the striped pajamas grown ups make up their minds

2 responses to “Review: Stay Where You Are and Then Leave”

  1. I’ve never heard of this book, but I’ve been meaning to read more historical fiction. I also sometimes like a really young narrator as they do see the world so completely differently! Great Review!
    Michelle (Pink Polka Dot Book Blog) recently posted…Cover Lover (or Hater)- November EditionMy Profile

  2. Bonnie says:

    I haven’t read anything of Boyne’s although my kid recently read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas for class and said it was really good. I plan on reading The Absolutist soon since winning it as a part of this Audie Awards giveaway… I really love WWI/WWII related novels and all of his sound worth checking out. Thanks for the reminder to pick up his work. 🙂
    Bonnie recently posted…Book Review – Ignite Me (Shatter Me #3) by Tahereh MafiMy Profile

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