Stay Where You Are And Then Leave by John Boyne

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Stay Where You Are And Then Leave by John Boyne

Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: World War I story narrated by a boy whose father gets shell shock after his experience in the trenches. Absorbing story with a great central characters and with serious issues pitched perfectly for middle grade readers.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: September 2013
Publisher: Doubleday
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 0857532936

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Alfie is just five years old when the Great War breaks out in 1914. His father joins up straightaway. Cheerful letters come from Georgie for a while and Alfie's mother reads them to him. But then the letters grow miserable and frightening. Alfie's mother stops reading them aloud and hides them away - but Alfie finds them anyway. And then the letters stop altogether. Alfie is told that his father is on a secret mission and can't write, but he sees through the lie immediately. And then, one day, a chance meeting tells Alfie exactly what has happened to his father. He's home from the front but he's in hospital, suffering from a condition nobody understood at the time: shell shock.

I thought this was a great story. It's about a time and a place and its attitudes but it's also the story of a little boy who never gives up. For the best reason in the world. For love.

Boyne covers shell shock very well - he doesn't hold back from some gruesome descriptions, both of the condition itself, and of the hospital in which Alfie's father is being treated. And he explains the environment to which these damaged men were returning - an environment unused to pyschological diagnoses, quick to condemn the sufferers of shell shock as cowards. And this then enables Boyne to clue in readers about another issue explored in the book; that of conscientious objectors. Alfie's neighbour Joe is a "conchie". And despite Joe having grown up in Alfie's street, being Alfie's father's best friend, he is ignored or abused by people he has known his whole life. This book also covers the treatment of aliens - another of Alfie's neighbours is interned on the Isle of Man for the duration of the war.

Alfie's life changes too. His mother is forced into more and more work just to make the rent. She takes in washing and mending and when this isn't enough, she becomes a Queen's Nurse and Alfie finds himself alone much of the time. Wanting to contribute, Alfie becomes a shoe shine boy at Kings Cross station and sneaks money into his mother's purse so that she won't realise he's skipping school. All this is a lot for today's readers to take in, but Boyne does it beautifully - as part of the story, not a lecture.

Stay Where You Are And Then Leave is a lovely book. It tells an interesting and sometimes tense story of a boy during wartime and it's filled with a real sense of humanity. There is a lot of well-researched detail but it never detracts from the narrative. And a strong central character holds it all together. Alfie will find a great many friends and well-wishers in his readers. And look at the jacket artwork! How could you resist?


You might also enjoy My Friend the Enemy by Dan Smith, a wartime story - WWII this time - in which two children harbour a German airman whose plane has crashed. There's lots to think about and it's beautifully written.

Buy Stay Where You Are And Then Leave by John Boyne at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Stay Where You Are And Then Leave by John Boyne at

Buy Stay Where You Are And Then Leave by John Boyne at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Stay Where You Are And Then Leave by John Boyne at


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