By John Boyne
Published by David Fickling Books
Who is Noah Barleywater and what is so special about him running away from home? Noah is just an eight-year-old boy, and lots of eight-year-old boys run away from home but soon come back again when they realise home is the best place to be. But once Noah walks out of his home, he is determined not to go back. There are things there that frighten him.
And he has made nothing of his life so far. Boys in his class have done exciting things and even got their names in the newspapers. Noah has read 14 books, won a bronze medal at Sports Day, is seventh in his class and is an excellent speller. But this isn't much for eight years. There is only one option left to Noah when he sums up his life and situation. He must run away and take a look at what is out there in the world.
So, Noah takes to the road. First, he arrives at the First Village, where people aren't friendly at all. Also, he has a very strange, unsettling experience in the First Village.
When he tries to pluck an apple to eat for breakfast, the tree seems to move like a human being. That's very odd. Noah decides not to hang around.
He stays a little bit longer in the Second Village. He comes across a very odd-looking building that turns out to be a toyshop. Inside Noah finds the place is crammed with wooden puppets of all shapes and sizes, and waiting in the shadows is an old toymaker who doesn't seem at all surprised that an eight-year-old runaway has walked into his shop.
The toymaker tells Noah of his life when he was a young man. Noah slowly starts to tell the toymaker about his home and the people he has left behind, and the mystery at the centre of Noah Barleywater Runs Away becomes ever more intriguing. Why has Noah run away? We didn't care much at the beginning of the book, but we care very much now.
John Boyne is a very elegant and persuasive writer, and he peels away Noah's story like peeling the apple that Noah tried to eat in the First Village. There is something there, but we don't quite know what it is, but it will be revealed to all of us in good time.
The other secret at the heart of Noah Barleywater is the identity of the toymaker. He isn't who he seems to be. As the novel moves along, both mysteries fall into place, but not in the way that the reader might have expected.
This is a story about an eight-year-old, but it is for any reader who wants to experience an unusual, intriguing and well-written novel.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com