The greatest thing about maternity leave is that I can go to the library whenever I feel like it. After months of it being either closed or only having the opportunity to go on my day off if we weren't doing something else, this is an awesome kind of bliss. Yesterday I ended up picking up quite a few things as the result of blogger recommendations, and as it was sunny I decided to walk to the beach (just for reference, the beach is down a big hill and then an even bigger cliff). Due to the whole 35 weeks pregnant thing, I had to rest for quite a while once I got there and started reading The Borrower, and then couldn't stop.
I forget exactly where I first heard about this book, but I know it was online and thus I blame you lot! I know I'm like a lot of people in that I absolutely adore books about books, and The Borrower is; originally set in a library, has a central protagonist who is a children's library, and is really about the escapist power of children's literature.
Having read the book straight through in a day, I have mixed feelings about it. The story follows Lucy Hull, a children's librarian in Hannibal, Missouri, and Ian Drake, a ten year old who spends a lot of time in the library, battling with a very religious mother who only wants him to read books containing 'the breath of God' and has recently enrolled him in an anti-gay class at their church. When Lucy finds Ian camped out in the library she manages to get herself into an awkward kidnapped/kidnapper situation which is difficult to find a way out of. I really enjoyed Rebecca Makkai's writing, especially the atmosphere of the library that she evoked - it reminded me a lot of my library when I was a child, and I think that for a lot of people as children the library becomes a kind of refuge. I know that whenever I was feeling socially awkward (a lot of the time, I have social anxiety problems), or just wanted more books to read (always), the library was always the place I went, so I can totally relate to Ian. It's the place Ian finds solace and escape and the books, like Matilda that he secretly reads crouched in the corner of the library, or which he smuggles home underneath his jacket.
It's kind of fitting that I'm trying to review this while reading about Banned Books Week in the U.S. I know that as a parent it's important to know what your children are reading and watching in terms of them not being exposed to things which will scare or confuse them before they're ready for them, but when I was a child I don't remember my mother ever stopping me from checking a book out of the library. Admittedly I usually chose them from the age appropriate stacks, but I was one of those kids who exhausted the children's section at around age ten or eleven and migrated into the adult section, and I don't remember ever being stopped. I'd like to think that I would never stop my child from reading a book if they wanted to. The problem as I see it with some parents' attitude to literature is that they don't want to discuss with their children the issues that will be raised by some books, and so they find it easier to simply stop their children from reading them. I'm not really sure that this is the way forward, but I've just written a whole post about it for Banned Books Week, so if you're really excited to hear my views you can read about them then!
The one thing that bothered me about the book is that never, at any point, is it made clear why Ian has run away. He just runs, and Lucy never asks him what he's running from. She just accepts the situation, which at times seemed a little unbelievable to me. It wasn't that the storyline was lacking cohesion so much as it was lacking purpose, and although the book was still perfectly readable, the middle did seem to drift a bit, introducing characters and events for little to no reason. That said, I loved the beginning and the end, and the characters were OK. I didn't fall in love with any of them, but I could get along quite well with them and none of them made me want to hit things - always a plus!
There are a lot of quotes I'd like to stick in here but they're mostly from the end and so spoilers! If you like books about books, though, I would recommend reading this, and meanwhile, I may start up a Tumblr, just for quotes...