The Borrower

The Borrower

3.5 61
by Rebecca Makkai
     
 

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In this delightful, funny, and moving first novel, a librarian and a young boy obsessed with reading take to the road.

Lucy Hull, a young children's librarian in Hannibal, Missouri, finds herself both a kidnapper and kidnapped when her favorite patron, ten- year-old Ian Drake, runs away from home. The precocious Ian is addicted to reading, but needsSee more details below

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Overview

In this delightful, funny, and moving first novel, a librarian and a young boy obsessed with reading take to the road.

Lucy Hull, a young children's librarian in Hannibal, Missouri, finds herself both a kidnapper and kidnapped when her favorite patron, ten- year-old Ian Drake, runs away from home. 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. Desperate to save him from Pastor Bob and the Drakes, Lucy allows herself to be hijacked by Ian. The odd pair embarks on a crazy road trip from Missouri to Vermont, with ferrets, an inconvenient boyfriend, and upsetting family history thrown in their path. But is it just Ian who is running away? Who is the man who seems to be on their tail? And should Lucy be trying to save a boy from his own parents?



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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Makkai shows promise in her overworked debut, an occasionally funny crime farce about a hapless librarian–cum–accidental kidnapper. Lucy Hull is a 26-year-old whose rebellion against her wealthy Russian mafia parents has taken the form of her accepting a children's librarian job in smalltown Missouri. After an unnecessarily long-winded first act, the novel picks up when Lucy discovers her favorite library regular, 10-year-old Ian Drake, hiding out in the stacks one morning after having run away from his evangelical Christian parents, who censor his book choices and are pre-emptively sending him to SSAD (Same-Sex Attraction Disorder) rehab, and Lucy soon aids and abets his escape. The tale of their subsequent jaunt across several state lines dodging cops, a persistent suitor of Lucy's, and a suspicious black-haired pursuer is fast-paced, suspenseful, and thoroughly enjoyable—the real meat of the book. Unfortunately, the padding around the adventure too often feels like preaching to the choir (censorship is bad, libraries and independent booksellers are good) and the frequent references to children's books—including a "choose-your-own adventure" interlude—quickly go from cute to irritating. There's great potential, but it's buried in unfortunate fluff. (June)
From the Publisher
“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 [starred review]

“How could any [one] of any age resist Rebecca Makkai’s charming The Borrower?”
O, the Oprah Magazine

“Makkai is clearly a lover of the public book-lending institution. Her careful, attentive approach seamlessly weaves literary lore into her unusual and touching story of a librarian fighting for social liberty and freedom of expression.”
The Washington Post

The Oprah Magazine O
“How could any [one] of any age resist Rebecca Makkai’s charming The Borrower?”
O, the Oprah Magazine
Richard Russo
"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."
The Daily Beast
“This comical and touching book strikes a nice balance between literary artistry and gripping storytelling, and offers a contemporary take on the classic “journey of discovery.”…Right up to the book’s satisfying and well-plotted ending, Makkai shows us that even though the stories we are told as children are often fount to betray us as mere fantasy, there might still be some wisdom in the one of their most common and simple morals: Be true to yourself.”
Hannah Tinti
“Rebecca Makkai’s The Borrower is full of books, libraries, cross-country hijinks, accidental parenting, love gone wrong and friendships gone right. Makkai will have you cheering for her librarian heroine, who has all the history and darkness of a Russian novel in her veins, mixed with the humor and spirit of Bridget Jones. A fun, moving, and delightful read.”
Oprah Magazine O
“How could any reader of any age resist Rebecca Makkai’s charming The Borrower, a novel that tracks the relationship between a 20-something librarian and a 10-year-old boy with punitive parents. Part caper (the two take off on a road trip that has moments of danger but never turns dark), part coming-of-age (and not just for the kid!) story, it manages, with good humor and wry self-knowledge, to read our minds.”
The Washington Post
“Makkai is clearly a lover of the public book-lending institution. Her careful, attentive approach seamlessly weaves literary lore into her unusual and touching story of a librarian fighting for social liberty and freedom of expression.”
The Washington Post
The New York Times
“An appealing, nonromantic love story about an unexpected pairing—and a surprisingly moving one.”
Parade Magazine
“In the hilariously off-kilter world Makkai creates, it makes perfect sense that 26-year-old children’s librarian Lucy Hull and her favorite reading-obsessed patron, 10-year-old Ian Drake, should ‘kidnap’ each other and take a loopy road trip. Clever riffs on classic kid lit pepper the sparkling prose, making this first novel a captivating read.”
WSJ.com
“A lively, lovely read that delicately weaves together social activism, literary culture and the quintessential road trip motif into a single solid adventure tale…Reading The Borrower is like taking a blissfully nostalgic journey into the bookshelves of American childhood.”—WSJ.com
The Wall Street Journal
“A wise and likable tale about the difficulty of protecting a precocious imagination.”
The Chicago Tribune
“Poignant...every conflicted word Lucy utters in Makkai’s probing novel reminds us that literature matters because it helps us discover ourselves while exploring the worlds of others.”
Booklist
“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 [starred review]
Library Journal
This entertaining first novel reads like a liberal librarian's illicit fantasy—save a child from an overbearing, ultrareligious mother by surreptitiously introducing him to new ideas through great literature. Lucy Hull is a young, accidental children's librarian with few friends. Her one interest is ten-year-old voracious reader Ian, who she predicts will come out one day. Lucy willfully ignores the list of forbidden subjects that Ian's mother presents to her, checking out books for him on her own library card. When Lucy discovers Ian camped out at the library, backpack and getaway plan at the ready, it doesn't take much convincing for her to drive off with him, launching a wacky, aimless cross-country road trip. Lucy is a self-centered, exasperating heroine, but her relationship with Ian is charming and original. VERDICT Librarians may beef that Lucy's reading suggestions and Makkai's descriptions of library practice are not current, but the general public probably won't notice. Overall, a stylish and clever tale for bibliophiles who enjoy authors like Jasper Fforde and Connie Willis. [See Prepub Alert, 12/13/10.]—Christine Perkins, Bellingham P.L., WA
Kirkus Reviews

A children's librarian in Hannibal, Mo., finds herself on a long, strange trip in Makkai's ruminative first novel.

Lucy Hull feels sorry for Ian Drake, the most devoted attendee of her read-aloud on Friday afternoons. Ian's reading is severely circumscribed by his mother's fundamentalist strictures, which rule out everything from Roald Dahl to Harry Potter. Lucy is further appalled when she learns that Ian—whom everyone assumes is gay, though he's only 10—is forced to attend weekly classes with Pastor Bob, who specializes in rehabilitating "sexually confused brothers and sisters in Christ." So when Lucy finds Ian hiding in the library one morning with a knapsack, she decides to help him run away. They wind up on a meandering journey that passes through her parents' home in Chicago, where Lucy picks up some cash from her father, an affluent Russian immigrant with vaguely unsavory business ties. En route to Vermont, where Ian claims his grandmother lives, Lucy tries to figure out how she got herself into this mess and how she can avoid being arrested as a kidnapper. Makkai takes several risks in her sharp, often witty text, replete with echoes of children's classics fromGoodnight Moon toThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz,as well as more ominous references toLolita.Lucy and Ian don't bond in the warm and fuzzy way of Hollywood movies, and there's no big payoff where he recognizes and renounces his mother's bigoted ways. He remains a smart, difficult kid whose inner thoughts are opaque. This is Lucy's story, and we have known from the opening pages that her road trip will shake her loose from Hannibal; the interest comes from discovering how and why. The novel bogs down for a long time in the middle with an excess of plot, but the moving final chapters affirm the power of books to change people's lives even as they acknowledge the unbreakable bonds of home and family.

Smart, literate and refreshingly unsentimental.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101516089
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
06/09/2011
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
120,032
File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

I might be the villain of this story. Even now, it’s hard to tell.

Back at the library, amid the books and books on ancient Egypt, the picture the children loved most showed the god of death weighing a dead man’s heart against a feather. There is this consolation, then, at least: One day, I will know my guilt.

I’ve left behind everyone I used to know. I’ve found another library, one with oak walls, iron railings. A college library, where the borrowers already know what they’re looking for. I scan their books and they barely acknowledge me through their caffeinated haze. It’s nothing like my old stained-carpet, brick-walled library, but the books are the same—same spines, same codes on yellowed labels. I know what’s in them all. They whisper their judgment down.

The runaways, the kidnappers, look down from their shelves and claim me for their own. They tell me to light out for the Territory, reckon I’m headed for Hell just like them. They say I’m the most terrific liar they ever saw in their lives. And that one, old lecher-lepidopterist, gabbling grabber, stirring his vodka-pineapple from the high narrow shelf of N-A-B, let me twist his words. (You can always count on a librarian for a derivative prose style): Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what I envied, what I thought I could fix. Look at this prison of books.

Before this all began, I told Rocky that one day I’d arrange my books by main character, down through the alphabet. I realize now where I’d be: Hull, snug between Huck and Humbert. But really I should file it under Drake, for Ian, for the boy I stole, because regardless of who the villain is, I’m not the hero of this story. I’m not even the subject of this prayer.

Every Friday at 4:30, they gathered cross-legged on the brown shag rug, picked at its crust of mud and glitter and Elmer’s glue, and leaned against the picture-book shelves.

I had five regulars, and a couple of them would have come seven days a week if they could. Ian Drake came with chicken pox, with a broken leg. He came even when he knew it had been cancelled that week, and sat there reading aloud to himself. And then each week there were two or three extras whose parents happened to need a babysitter. They’d squirm through chapters eight and nine of a book they couldn’t follow, pulling strings from their socks and then flossing their teeth with them.

That fall, five years ago, we were halfway through Matilda. Ian came galloping up to me before reading time, our fourth week into the book.

“I told my mom we’re reading Little House in the Big Woods again. I don’t think she’d be a fan of Matilda too much. She didn’t even like Fantastic Mr. Fox.” He forked his fingers through his hair. “Are we kapeesh?”

I nodded. “We don’t want your mom to worry.” We hadn’t gotten to the magic part yet, but Ian had read it before, secretly, crouched on the floor by the Roald Dahl shelf. He knew what was coming.

He skipped off down the biography aisle, then wandered back up through science, his head tilted sideways to read the spines.

Loraine came up beside me—Loraine Best, the head librarian, who thank God hadn’t heard our collusions—and watched the first few children gather on the rug. She came downstairs some Fridays just to smile and nod at the mothers as they dropped them off, as if she had some hand in Chapter Book Hour. As if her reading three minutes of Green Eggs and Ham wouldn’t make half the children cry and the others raise their hands to ask if she was a good witch or a bad witch.

Ian disappeared again, then walked up through American History, touching each book on the top right-hand row. “He practically lives here, doesn’t he?” Loraine whispered. “That little homosexual boy.”

“He’s ten years old!” I said. “I doubt he’s anything-sexual.”

“Well I’m sorry, Lucy, I have nothing against him, but that child is a gay.” She said it with the same tone of pleasure at her own imagined magnanimity that my father used every time he referred to “Ophelia, my black secretary.”

Over in fiction now, Ian stood on tiptoes to pull a large green book from a high shelf. A mystery: the blue sticker-man with his magnifying glass peered from the spine. Ian sat on the floor and started in on the first page as if it indeed contained all the mysteries of the world, as if everything in the universe could be solved by page 132. His glasses caught the fluorescent light, two yellow discs over the pages. He didn’t move until the other children began gathering and Loraine bent down beside him and said, “Everyone’s waiting for you.” We weren’t—Tony didn’t even have his coat off yet—but Ian scooted on his rear all the way across the floor to join us, without ever looking up from the book. We had five listeners that day, all regulars.

“All right,” I said, hoping Loraine would make her exit now, “where did we leave off?”

“Miss Trunchbull yelled because they didn’t know their math,” said Melissa.

“And she yelled at Miss Honey.”

“And they were learning their threes.”

Ian sighed loudly and held up his hand.

“Yes?”

“That was all two weeks ago. BUT, when last we left our heroine, she was learning of Miss Trunchbull’s history as a hammer thrower, and also we were learning of the many torture devices she kept in her office.”

“Thank you, Ian.” He grinned at me. Loraine rolled her eyes—whether at me or Ian, I wasn’t sure—and tottered back to the stairs. I almost always had to cut Ian off, but he didn’t mind. Short of burning down the library there was nothing I could do that would push him away. I was keeping Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing behind the desk to sneak to him whenever he came without his babysitter. Almost every afternoon for the past week he had run downstairs and stuck his head over my desk, panting.

Back then, before that long winter, Ian reminded me most of a helium balloon. Not just his voice, but the way he’d look straight up when he talked and bounce around on his toes as if he were struggling not to take off.

(Did he have a predecessor? asks Humbert.

No. No, he didn’t. I’d never met anyone like him in my life.)

Whenever he couldn’t find a book he liked, he’d come lean on the desk. “What should I read?”

“How to Stop Whining,” I’d say, or “An Introduction to the Computer Catalogue,” but he knew I was kidding. He knew it was my favorite question in the world. Then I’d pick something for him—D’Aulaire’s Greek Myths one time, The Wheel on the School another. He usually liked what I picked, and the D’Aulaire’s launched him on a mythology spree that lasted a good two months.

Because Loraine warned me early on about Ian’s mother, I made sure he read books with innocuous titles and pleasant covers. Nothing scary-looking, no Egypt Game. When he was eight, he came with a babysitter and borrowed Theater Shoes. He returned it the next day and told me he was only allowed to read “boy books.”

Fortunately, his mother didn’t seem to have a great knowledge of children’s literature. So My Side of the Mountain crept under the radar, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Both books about running away, I realized later, though I swear at the time it never crossed my mind.

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What People are saying about this

Richard Russo
“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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