‘Stay Where You Are And Then Leave’ by John Boyne

Stay Where You Are And Then Leave

★★★★

Here is a voice that is not often heard in WW1 literature – the voices of the children who grew up with father’s at the front and childhoods that had to end far too quickly. Alfie is a boy who understands that secrets are being kept from him. That the secrets are about the father he has not seen since he was five. He also understands that he has to use all of his brains if he wants to save the family.

The story begins with Alfie’s fifth birthday on the 28th July 1914. Up until this point, the little boy’s life has been a happy one: he a kind mum, a grandmother across the street, a dad who is a milkman and his best friend is the daughter of the local sweetshop owner. Within a few weeks Alfie’s dad has gone away to be a soldier and his best friend has been sent away because her father is Austrian. In the next years, Alfie’s mother works tirelessly to make ends meet, keeping down three different jobs, but Alfie sees that it is too much for his mother and secretly quits school to shine shoes at the King’s Cross station. Alfie’s mum insists that his dad cannot write letters anymore because he is on a very special, secret mission, but Alfie is nine now and clever – his dad is dead and never coming back. However, one day Alfie finds a piece of paper in the King’s Cross, it is a list of patients at a hospital in Suffolk and his dad’s name is on it!

‘Her father came here from Prague.’
‘So half Austrian-Hungarian, half English, then.’
‘She wasn’t a fraction.’
Mr Lloyd George frowned and looked at the boy with a concerned expression on his face. ‘You’re a bright one, aren’t you?’ he said after a long pause.

This is a children’s book, but you do not have to be a child to enjoy it or even love it. Boyne has written a fantastic account of what happens in the mind of a child that has to grow up really quickly, is willing to take on adult responsibilities but still does not have the understand necessary to understand the adult world quite yet. Alfie is not only prepared to take care of his family financially and emotionally, willing to do some very brave and scary things to ‘save’ his father from the hospital. Alfie is clever beyond his years, but when he decides to rescue his dad from hospital things begin to go very, very wrong.

I really felt for Alfie’s mother. Her family has fallen apart but she is unwilling to let the tragedies that surrounds them destroy herself or her son. She will not let the war ruin them! It is not difficult to see where Alfie gets his courage from!

Nine-year-old boys usually turn ten at some point. It’s the nineteen-year-olds that have difficulty turning twenty

I guess the book has a happy ending, but Alfie’s generation grew up in WW1 and became adults in WW2. I really hope Boyne writes a sequel to Stay where you are and then leave, or at least lets us meet Alfie as a supporting character in one of his later books (he has been known to do so before, even in this book we get to see Marion from The Absolutist). What happened to Alfie later on? What happened to his Jewish friend who moved back to the continent? In a few pages, I have come to care a great deal for this fictitious boy and I hope his adult life was a good one.

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