June 24th, 2014 by Nancy
Alfie Summerfield doesn’t much like his birthday because on July 28, 1914 (his fifth birthday), World War I started in England. And the day after his birthday, his father, Georgie Summerfield, enlisted to join the war effort. If you’re a fan of historical fiction (like I am) and war stories (I’m not usually, but this is a “what happens at home during wartime” story), then Stay Where You Are and Then Leave by John Boyne will be an excellent read for you!
Four years later, Alfie is nine and his life is very different. His best friend, Kalena Janáček, and her father were taken away from their little shop on Alfie’s street by the govenrment because Kalena’s father was originally from Prague. It doesn’t seem like the war will ever end, and the letters from Alfie’s father stopped coming years ago. His mother, Margie, insists that Georgie is on a secret mission, but Alfie can’t help but think his father is dead. And Alfie’s mother is barely able to pay the rent and put food on the table, even with three jobs — so Alfie decides to take matters into his own hands.
He steals — no, borrows — a shoe shine box from the Janáček’s empty house and heads to King’s Cross Train Station, where most days, instead of going to school, he shines shoes for a penny. Alfie meets all sorts of people in his secret life as a shoe shiner — doctors, veterans, bankers, even politicians who play a big part in the fate of the war. And one day he discovers a link to finding out where his father really is…
I don’t want to spoil the book too much, because going along with Alfie on his journey to find and rescue his dad is part of the experience of reading Stay Where You And Then Leave…uh oh, I’ve said too much. I’ll be honest — the book is sad, because wartime is no joking matter, but there are also parts of the book that will make you chuckle a little and think. Alfie is a smart, scrappy, but impulsive boy who you could easily be friends with. I did want to find out more about what happened to Kalena and her father (and I think you will too, if you read it!), but perhaps John Boyne will include that in another book… It’s perfect if you want to find out more about World War I but you’re tired of just learning the facts from history class. Check it out!
Nancy usually prefers historical fiction when there are no wars going on, unless it’s a war against swarms of grasshoppers intent on eating your wheat crop on Plum Creek.