Review: Stay Where You Are and Then Leave by John Boyne

Stay Where You Are and Then Leave jumped out at me from its shelf at the library because of its unique and intriguing title. I was also lured in by the fact that it’s written by the same author of The Boy In the Striped Pajamas. (I haven’t read yet, but I hear is very very sad.) All that to say, Stay Where You Are and Then Leave appeared to be a promising read.

Once finished with the book, I had mixed emotions. Half of me was inspired and touched by this story and half of me was unsure what to feel.

Stay Where You Are and Then Leave is the story of a little boy named Alfie Summerfield. Alfie has a wonderful family and home on Damley Road in London. The book opens up with Alfie, his family, and close friends celebrating his fifth birthday. This is supposed to be a happy day, but it has just been announced that England is at war with Germany. (This takes place during the First World War.) Alfie forever remembers his fifth birthday as the day the war started and the day his father joined the effort.

A short while later, Alfie’s father leaves for basic training and the war. Several years pass and letters from Alfie’s father gradually cease. Although Mrs. Summerfield tells her son that Mr. Summerfield is on a secret mission and can no longer communicate with them, Alfie just knows his father is dead.

However, Alfie is mistaken and he soon learns his father is at a special hospital for soldiers with “shell shock” (now known as PTSD). A secret mission to break his father free from such a terrifying place ensues.

This book is children’s fiction written from a child’s perspective, and thus it was hard to read about such a tragic condition from the eyes of a little boy who doesn’t understand why his daddy isn’t acting like his daddy anymore.

“… and it was only now that Alfie realized that his dad wasn’t behaving like his dad anymore. It was as if they’d swapped roles and Georgie simply believed whatever Alfie told him; as if he were the adult and Georgie the child. This idea made Alfie feel very uncomfortable and even a little frightened. His dad was supposed to take care of him, not the other way around.” (ch. 11, pg. 195)

Upon reading Alfie’s observations and noting how everything affected him, it was easy for me to understand his motive in trying to “break his father free.” Alfie is extremely brave throughout the story in his pursuit of this goal, and he continually puts the lives of others before himself. “Love your neighbor as yourself…”

The only draw back to this book was all the deception that occurs. Alfie lies frequently. He lies to his mother, to people at the hospital, to the people he talks to at the train station. Some of these lies are understandable, but that does not mean they are justified. In the end the truth is revealed, but no one is ever punished for their lies. The author never insinuates lying is wrong either.

Other than this fact and one or two uses of profanity, Stay Where You Are and Then Leave was an interesting book. It opens ones eyes up to the outcomes of war from a child’s perspective, teaches there are different kinds of bravery, and reminds us not to hate those who we don’t understand.

I was saddened by the sorrows in this book, but I am able to look forward to the day when Christ comes again and sorrow will be no more.

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