I’ve admitted it before here on the blog, and I’ll say it again: I’m a cover art snob. The book might have beautiful illustrations, or a title in a font either comfortingly familiar or tantalizingly new and different. Regardless, I am seduced by the visual art into reading – an activity where I must imagine the scenes and bring them to life in my head. Strange? A bit. But that’s part of the magic. I think rather a lot of us readers are like this, or publishers wouldn’t spend so much time crafting beautiful art on the outside of a book.
Back to the matter at hand, which is a specific book: Noah Barleywater Runs Away, by John Boyne. Given what I’ve said above, you may infer that I: 1) appreciate the cover art, 2) like the typography, and 3) think the illustrations on the inside are adorable. Luckily, I also loved the story within those decorated covers. It touched my heart, and made me want to call my family. In other words? It was quite good.
Eight-year-old Noah's problems seem easier to deal with if he doesn't think about them. So he runs away, taking an untrodden path through the forest.
Before long, he comes across a shop. But this is no ordinary shop: it's a toyshop, full of the most amazing toys, and brimming with the most wonderful magic. And here Noah meets a very unusual toymaker. The toymaker has a story to tell, and it's a story of adventure and wonder and broken promises. He takes Noah on a journey. A journey that will change his life.
What one of us hasn’t wanted to run away for a bit? I mean, I wanted to run away from home as a child (show me one kid who didn’t, really!), and I still do from time to time as an adult. The pressure, the problems, the pain – whether real, imagined or somewhere in between – it can all be too much. But that’s what life is, and oftentimes we find magic along with the hurt or the not-so-great to prop us up and keep us going. And this, I think, is what Noah Barleywater’s adventure is about.
This story reads first as an journey, and then as a fable, and towards the end as a fairy tale, before going back into the territory of ‘real’ interspersed with wonder. If I had to choose, I’d slot it in with magical realism. In my head it belongs on a shelf along with the Chronicles of Narnia, Where the Red Fern Grows, The Borrowers and The Yearling – all the books I remember vividly from my mother’s reading aloud days.
I had no idea what to expect going in, and I was happy to find that I had picked a book with some sort of magic, which also kept my attention (though I think it’s probably even more wonderful in the hands of someone of the age its meant to appeal to). There’s nothing to object to, and much to marvel at, and I will definitely be reading more of Boyne’s work in the future. Even if it did make me cry (in a good sort of way, you understand).
Recommended for: fans of middle grade literature, those fond of fables and fairy tales folded into real life, elders looking for something substantial to read aloud to the younger set, and anyone who can appreciate the urge to run away when life seems too hard, but can see the other side of the equation, too.
Fine print: I received an ARC of this book in a promotional giveaway from Random House.