Lucy Hull, a young children’s librarian in Hannibal, Missouri, is unsure where her life is headed. That becomes more than a figure of speech when her favorite patron, ten-year-old Ian Drake, runs away from home and Lucy finds herself in the surprise role of chauffeur.
The precocious Ian is addicted to reading, but needs Lucy’s help to smuggle books past his overbearing mother, who has enrolled Ian in weekly antigay classes with celebrity Pastor Bob. Lucy stumbles into a moral dilemma when she finds Ian camped out in the library after hours with a knapsack of provisions and an escape plan.
The odd pair embarks on a crazy road trip from Missouri to Vermont, with ferrets, an inconvenient boyfriend, and dubious family history thrown in their path. But who is actually running away? And from what?
Rebecca Makkai's debut is remarkably bold, and so is the audiobook narration. Emily Bauer lays it on thick as flaky yet ferocious children's librarian Lucy Hull. Lucy does not like to think much about where her own life is headed, so she deflects by thinking about her favorite little avid reader, an ambiguously gay 10-year-old boy with decidedly religious parents. As evidence of Ian Drake's oppression at the hands of fundamentalist Christians begins to pile up, Lucy's slow and sympathetic simmering is suddenly jarred into idealistic action. The kid wants to run away, and Lucy is in the mood to do the same. Bauer's sweet public servant voice is a little on the sugary side, but listeners are not meant to like Lucy too much. After all, she did kidnap a child and take him on a trip half way across the country.
Still, Makkai's novel rings true as a deeply liberal and ultimately enjoyable fantasy, parallel in psychology to Quentin Tarantino's much less sentimental film Inglourious Basterds. This is just about saving one lisping kid from persecution, not about assassinating Hitler, but Makkai does cast the net wide by including a thread that contemplates Lucy's father, a small-time mobster who immigrated to Chicago in order to escape Stalinism. Here, too, Emily Bauer pushes the limit of comedic interpretation for the Russian accent. The father is a very funny character with serious political implications, and in this way is emblematic of the larger narrative structure.
Lucy may be able to save Ian, or maybe Ian doesn't really need saving. Lucy may be a heroic figure who represents a call to real political action, or maybe Lucy is getting fired and going to jail. The plotlines are cute and the ideas are big. Appropriately, the voices are cute and the accents are big. Whatever you make of the book's ultimate argument, all listeners will agree with one fundamental truth faithfully clung to by the left-wing librarian and her young friend: that if there are answers, we will find them in books. Megan Volpert
“A splendid first novel that cleverly weaves telling references to children’s books into her whimsically patchwork plot. Larger-than-life characters and an element of the picaresque add to the delights.” (Booklist)
“Rarely is a first novel as smart and engaging and learned and funny and moving as The Borrower. Rebecca Makkai is a writer to watch, as sneakily ambitious as she is unpretentious.” (Richard Russo, Pulitzer Prize-winning author)
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Voice ruins it
By Rebecca Makkai, maybe.
Not the audibook -- the reader's voice is breathy and juvenile like Amy Adams as a Disney princess. So distracting I couldn't get halfway through the story.
Reflective novel--but a distracting reading