Saturday, 24 November 2012

How Far Would You Go To........

.........remove a 10 year old boy from his anorexic fundamentalist Christian American mother who sends him to Pastor Bob's anti gay classes every week?
Published by William Heinemann

The thought of this drew me to this book as well as being influenced by a couple of other bloggers who recommended it.

The book is The Borrower and it is the first novel by Chicago writer Rebecca Makkai.  Ms. Makkai has previously been known for her short story collections but is now writing novels.

As a first novel I found flaws in it but overall I really enjoyed it.  A librarian, Miss Hull,  in Hannibal Missouri befriends a young 10 year old boy who practically lives in the library so he is able to access all of the books he is banned from reading.  His mother watches him with hawk like eyes and will often send a babysitter along with him to ensure he is reading The Hardy Boys or The Bobsey Twins which bored him silly. No wizards, magicians or dragons allowed.

Miss Hull has great empathy for him and sneaks him books, going as far as to let him stuff the books down his pants, front and back in order to smuggle them home.

The first third of this book really hooked me in. I enjoyed the characters, I could really understand Miss Hull's dilemma in wanting to save this boy from his mother especially once she finds out he is being sent to anti-gay classes with Pastor Bob who may be a bit suspect.

One day she enters the library and discovers Ian camping out in the library. He has run away from home. She offers to drive him home but ends up following his directions and the road trip from Missouri in the midwest begins towards Vermont in the north east of the country.

Once this part of the book began I must say I suspended all belief. It was just a bit too much to really appreciate as the police these days are pretty sophisticated with their missing children endeavours.  However the relationship between Miss Hull as she continually spins her web of dishonesty and letting Ian dominant the route of the trip continues.

Then throw in her relationship with her Russian immigrant parents, especially her mafia like father and I found this story was like trying to hold slippery eels all at once without dropping one.  On top of all of that enter her boyfriend, who is also quite annoying and it becomes a bit of slapstick.  I was curious though to get to the end (which I will not spoil) just to see what on earth happens.

Rebecca Makkai- author
The last third of the book tied things up both satisfactorily and unsatisfactorily and I was once again drawn back into their plight. I think the strength of this story are the characters and her message. They seem pretty solid, and their interactions, especially between Miss Hull and Ian are funny. He is an extremely bright, precocious boy, and I enjoyed the topics he was continually bringing up for them to ponder. However he certainly shied away from anything that was very personal which I wanted to hear a bit more about.

Overall I enjoyed this book. I think this author will get more structured as she continues her writing career and I look forward to watching her maturation as a writer of novels.  I enjoyed the beginning and ending of this tale but the middle sometimes waffled a bit. Although it was worth sticking it out and I liked the premise of the story:  kidnapping this child to remove him from the influence of the church in trying to rid him of his "possible homosexuality" in his future. After all he is only 10!.

I also think the main characters were developed enough that I could really get to know them. I would have liked to have seen some of the minor characters including the mother fleshed out a bit more. I thought they were more like stick figures running through the pages where the main characters were highlighted in brilliant technicolour. That could perhaps have been intentional on the author's part to keep the reader focused but sometimes it worked better than at other times.


Favourite excerpts below:

I think the handling of the message she sends  about the treatment of young people possibly going into gay lifestyles they are destined for was good. As if people are able to simply choose at a specific age whether they will be attracted to men or women or both.
I enjoyed her description of being in a library and I think anyone who loves books will appreciate her words:

"Maybe that's why I prefer this new library to my own bedroom:  looking at the million book spines, I can imagine a million alternate endings. It turned out the butler did it all, or I ended up marrying Mr. Darcy, or we went and watched a girl ride the merry-go-round in Central Park, or we beat on against the current in our little boats, or Atticus Finch was there when we woke up in the morning."

I also enjoyed her paragraph when thinking about this boy's total love of books and how he must work in order to read those he craves to read.

"I believed that Ian Drake would get his books, as surely as any addict will get his drug. He would bribe his babysitter, he'd sneak out of the house at night and smash the library window. He'd sell his own guinea pig for book money. He would read under his tented comforter with a penlight. He'd hollow out his mattress and fill it with paperbacks. They could lock him in the house, but they could never convince him that the world wasn't a bigger place than that. They'd wonder why they couldn't break him. They'd wonder why he smiled when they sent him to his room." 

Book source:  Tasmania State Library


  1. Hmmm. I'm not sure that the story appeals given the unevenness but I love the cover art and the starting point of the library as a hub/safe haven.

  2. Here is one situation where an e-reader would really help. With an e-reader, he could read in front of almost anyone and they'd have a more difficult time knowing exactly what it was he was reading.

    But I do think it's very unlikely that the town librarian would help him run away. The consequences she'd face for doing this are so great, I just don't believe it.

  3. An odd story.......and am amazed the author came up with one like this.

    1. I guess she has a strong view about not trying to steer children away from homosexuality if that is the nature of the child. Though 10 is young most gay people I have talked to have always said they knew they were on a different path as children. I don't think Pastor Bob has any right to try and change a child one way or the other at age 10 and I guess this protaganist thought the way same way. That's why I think this book would be a good one for a book group.


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