Stay Where You Are and Then Leave
By John Boyne
Published by Doubleday / Random House
ISBN 978 0 857 53293 0
John Boyne likes to take on big subjects. He is best known for the massively successful The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, which was both a worldwide best-seller and a hit movie. It's difficult for an author to repeat that sort of success and fame, but Boyne has a good go in his new novel, Stay Where You Are and Then Leave.
The title doesn't give much away: Boyne has gone back in time from the second world war, setting this new story at the start of the first world war. Once again, much of the story is seen through the eyes of a young boy.
The day that war is declared is Alfie Summerfield's fifth birthday. The Summerfields, who live in near King's Cross Station in London, throw a party and invite all the neighbours. But all the adults have the same, sad look on their faces, and Alfie does not understand why.
Georgie, Alfie's dad, promises his wife that he will not volunteer to join the army. At the start of the war, the British government relied on volunteers to swell army numbers to fight the German troops. But Alfie's dad is soon caught up in the excitement of August 1914 and changes his mind, heading off to France, proud that he has decided to fight for his country.
Dad writes to his wife and son from the trenches in Northern France, but suddenly his letters stop. Mum tells Alfie that this is because Dad has been sent on a secret mission. At first Alfie believes this, but gradually he suspects that Mum might not be telling the truth.
With no breadwinner, times get very hard for the Summerfields. Mum gets a job as a nurse, and Alfie sets himself up as a shoe-shine boy at King's Cross. Even though war is raging across the Channel, there are lots of men passing through the station who want their shoes to be shining bright.
One day, Alfie is shining the shoes of a doctor, when a sudden gust of wind blows the man's sheaf of papers away. Alfie helps the man to collect them, and in the process he sees his father's name listed as a patient in a hospital outside London. Alfie makes up his mind to solve the mystery of his dad's disappearance.
Boyne's unerring ability to get inside characters and capture their voice is brilliantly on display in this new novel. Alfie is a great creation, and the journey the author takes us on through his despair and determination to find his father makes for a moving and highly recommended read.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com