When Alfie’s dad left for war, everyone said he’d be home by Christmas. That was four years ago. Now his father doesn’t write or contact the family at all. Alfie’s mother says it’s because he’s on a secret mission for the government, but Alfie knows she’s lying. His father is dead, and no one wants to tell him the truth.
To help support his mother and without her knowledge, Alfie begins a secret mission of his own. Three days a week, he skips school and shines shoes at a nearby train station. Through a series of chance incidents, Alfie discovers that his father is not dead. He’s a patient at a nearby hospital and suffers from something called “shell shock.” Alfie resolves to find his father and bring him safely home where he belongs.
Boyne has an uncanny ability to engross readers in this very grown-up story told through the eyes of a nine year-old boy. Alfie struggles to understand disagreements about foreign backgrounds and commitments to nonviolence between his formerly friendly neighbors. Though he grasps the seriousness of his family’s financial distress, he doesn’t understand why his father can’t come home with him or what’s wrong with his mind.
Where the novel The Boy in the Striped Pajamas leaves readers gasping at its shocking (and powerful) end, Stay Where You Are and Then Leave is a more subtle story. It leaves readers to simmer over the flames of issues like human rights and the reality and validity of mental illness.
Using the viewpoint of a child allows the story to explore how the war affected those on the home front without focusing on the violence of the battle front. No one humanizes characters the way that an admiring young boy does. He grieves for his neighbors who’ve been removed to internment camp and for his father’s friend, a conscientious objector who is severely beaten for his convictions. Alfie’s voice fills the pages of the story with compassion. The reader will grasp things beyond the young boy’s ken through conversations overheard around him. This would be a great literary companion to a first historical look at World War I.
Brief references to war violence and soldiers who’ve died.
Hospital patients are given various drugs to combat physical and mental illness.