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The Stolen Child

The Stolen Child

4.3 58
by Keith Donohue

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“I am a changeling–a word that describes within its own name what we are bound and intended to do. We kidnap a human child and replace him or her with one of our own. . . .”The double story of Henry Day begins in 1949, when he is kidnapped at age seven by a band of wild childlike beings who live in an ancient, secret community in the forest


“I am a changeling–a word that describes within its own name what we are bound and intended to do. We kidnap a human child and replace him or her with one of our own. . . .”The double story of Henry Day begins in 1949, when he is kidnapped at age seven by a band of wild childlike beings who live in an ancient, secret community in the forest. The changelings rename their captive Aniday and he becomes, like them, unaging and stuck in time. They leave one of their own to take his place, an imposter who must try–with varying success–to hide his true identity from the Day family. As the changeling Henry grows up, he is haunted by glimpses of his lost double and by vague memories of his own childhood a century earlier. Narrated in turns by Henry and Aniday, The Stolen Child follows them as their lives converge, driven by their obsessive search for who they were before they changed places in the world. Moving from a realistic setting in small-town America deep into the forest of humankind’s most basic desires and fears, this remarkable novel is a haunting fable about identity and the illusory innocence of childhood.

Editorial Reviews

Graham Joyce
On the surface, Donohue may seem to have written a clever debut novel about fairies. But the real triumph of the book is that, while our backs were turned, he has performed a switch and delivered a luminous and thrilling novel about our humanity.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
In interlocking chapters of scintillating prose, Donohue tells the tale of Henry Day and the two people he becomes after being snatched at age seven by changelings. One of them takes his human life, convincing almost everyone that he is the real Henry; meanwhile, the boy becomes one of the changelings, dubbed Aniday and initiated into their magical twilight world. Paris's and Woodman's impressive readings make Donohue's beguiling tale even more vivid: Paris uses a remarkable range of accents and pitches for changelings of various European backgrounds, as well as giving us the smart, soulful Aniday, who can't quite accept his new life. Meanwhile, Woodman illustrates the changing sound of American conversation from the '50s to the '70s, and his nuanced tones make one sympathize intensely with the second Henry Day, who is ever fearful of discovery and unable to relax into his own new life. Both readers manage to sound like a full cast without any sound effects, brilliantly illuminating the fantastic, detailed world Donohue has created so that the story will linger in listeners' minds for a long time afterward. Simultaneous release with the Nan Talese hardcover (Reviews, Jan. 23). (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
AGERANGE: Ages 12 to adult.

Some might say this novel about changelings and fairies is a fantasy, but it is written in such a believable way that the reader will be looking at every mischievous child, searching for signs of a changeling. And every YA reader will wonder if being a changeling may explain why he is living with parents who are so unlike him. When Henry Day was seven, he ran away to the forest and was gone for a few days. When he was found in a tree, he seemed different to his father, and his mother realized that something about him had profoundly changed. He had been replaced by a fairy, who had himself been a stolen child many years before. This wonderful book alternates chapters between Aniday, the child/fairy now living in the woods with other changelings, awaiting his turn to become human again, and the changeling now living the life of Henry Day. Unfortunately for the changelings, the world has changed too. Their forest home is encroached upon by a housing development where ironically the adult Henry Day changeling now lives. It becomes harder and harder to find children unattended and their band of half humans/half changelings is decimated by accident and choice. The story is filled with melancholy and an ache to find where one truly belongs, as the lives of the two boys and the boys who came before them and the one born of them are interwoven in a complex pattern of lives, past lives, and changing worlds. Reviewer: Nola Theiss
March 2008 (Vol. 42, No.2)

The centuries-old myth of childlike fairies called "changelings," who live in the forest, steal children, and replace them with one of their own, is at the heart of this complex and plodding fantasy. The story opens with the "stealing" of seven-year-old Henry Day. Donohue tells the story in the alternating voices of Henry and his replacement, painting a vivid although overdone picture of two tortured souls desperate to discover who they are. Henry, now known as Aniday, takes his place among the changelings. He is told to forget his past and to embrace his life with them as an ageless wild child. Refusing to forget, Aniday writes down all his memories. Henry's replacement must adjust to his new life, while being haunted by his changeling past and before that his life as a child in Germany. He struggles with guilt over what he has become and remorse for the life and family he never knew. Donohue ties the two stories together using contrived plot devices such as making the next "changeling" victim more than twenty years later just happen to be the son of a close friend of the current Henry Day. These ridiculous coincidences shatter any cohesiveness in the story. The writing is passable, and the "changeling" premise is intriguing, regardless only the most sophisticated teens will have patience for this story. Sexual situations, strong language, and brief violence make it a purchase only for older teen collections where fantasy is popular. VOYA CODES: 2Q 2P S A/YA (Better editing or work by the author might have warranted a 3Q; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult-marketed book recommended for Young Adults). 2006, Nan A. TaleseBooks/Doubleday, 323p., Ages 15 to Adult.
—Shari Fesko
Library Journal
Fairy tales often reach into dark places, and this one is no exception. Inspired by a W.B. Yeats poem, it is a modern retelling of the changeling myth, in which a child is stolen away by fairies who leave one of their own in its place. In this case, seven-year-old Henry Day is the changeling; the real Henry is now called Aniday and lives in the woods with a group of other stolen-away children. We follow Henry and Aniday in alternating chapters as Henry grows up and Aniday, forever seven, does not. Henry tries to fit into his new life, but traces of his previous existence keep revealing themselves, e.g., he has a musical talent that the original Henry never had. Meanwhile, Aniday struggles to hold on to his humanity even as he forgets who he was. Despite the fantastic element, Donohue anchors the book in a mid-century America that feels specific and real. A haunting, unusual first novel, The Stolen Child is recommended for all public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 12/05.]-Jenne Bergstrom, San Diego Cty. Lib. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-When Henry Day runs away at age seven, he is captured by a gang of hobgoblins, or changelings. One of them assumes his identity and takes his place in his family, and the original Henry, now called Aniday, adapts to life with ageless children who survive in the woods, awaiting their turn to change places with a human. Told in alternating voices by the impostor and the real Henry, this story shows how their lives intertwine as they come to terms with their new realities. New England in the latter half of the 20th century is not kind to creatures of the shadowy realm, and the band of changelings slowly dwindles as housing developments and industry push away the forested areas where they hide. As much as the new Henry tries to assimilate, memories of a prior life nag at him, and he comes to realize that, just as he has stolen Aniday's childhood, his own childhood was stolen away from him in 19th-century Germany. Although the coincidences in their quests stretch a little thin at times, Donohue has created a haunting picture of two lonely spirits searching for identity in the modern world. He includes just enough fantasy that readers will look a little more closely the next time they are walking through a dark stretch of forest.-Kim Dare, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Fairies, alive and well in '60s small-town America, replace a human boy with one of their own-and fabulous adventures ensue. Seven-year-old Henry Day is hoping to run away from his family and his mundane miseries when he's abducted by changelings and thrown into water in a kind of pagan baptism. Yeats celebrated these legendary, ageless woodland sprites, and Donohue updates their myth. "Ancients in wild children's bodies," the changelings re-name their captive Aniday and rear him to become a forest-stalker capable of resuscitating deer hit by the townsfolk's heedless drivers. Meanwhile, another "boy" steals into Aniday's old bed; a changeling the Day family believes is their own Henry who'd been lost in a forest. In alternating chapters, Aniday and Henry spin a tale that's part metaphysical The Prince and the Pauper, part runic Trading Places. The former fairy, in elementary school, finds earthlings bizarre and uncouth; to him they are "nose-pickers, thumbsuckers, snorers, ne'er-do-wells." The new "Henry Day" befriends his changeling hosts, but longs for books. As the boys age, each seeks identity, but is haunted by memory-Aniday, of his family and clean sheets, "Henry Day," of a life richer than the one he's living with his suburban hosts. Discovering in himself a prodigious talent as a pianist, he wonders about his previous existence. Something tells him that in the past he had been a genius musician. Graced with telling period touches-there are nods to The Jackie Gleason Show and the Kennedys-the novel resurrects an America that now seems as exotic as Middle Earth. Take that, Bilbo Baggins! Donohue's sparkling debut especially delights because, by surrounding his fantasy withreal-world, humdrum detail, he makes magic believable.
From the Publisher
"Utterly absorbing . . . a luminous and thrilling novel about our humanity." —Washington Post“A wonderful, fantasy-laden debut . . . so spare and unsentimental that it’s impossible not to be moved.” —Newsweek “The book gains unexpected force as the plots converge... it culminates in a torrent of emotion.” —The New York Times

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.63(w) x 9.53(h) x 1.13(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Stolen Child

By Keith Donohue

Random House

Keith Donohue
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0385516169

Chapter One


Don't call me a fairy. We don't like to be called fairies anymore. Once upon a time, fairy was a perfectly acceptable catchall for a variety of creatures, but now it has taken on too many associations. Etymologically speaking, a fairy is something quite particular, related in kind to the naiads, or water nymphs, and while of the genus, we are sui generis. The word fairy is drawn from fay (Old French fee), which itself comes from the Latin Fata, the goddess of fate. The fay lived in groups called the faerie, between the heavenly and earthly realms.

There exist in this world a range of sublunary spirits that carminibus coelo possunt deducere lunam, and they have been divided since ancient times into six kinds: fiery, aerial, terrestrial, watery, subterranean, and the whole class of fairies and nymphs. Of the sprites of fire, water, and air, I know next to nothing. But the terrestrial and underground devils I know all too well, and of these, there is infinite variety and attendant myth about their behavior, custom, and culture. Known around the world by many different names-Lares, genii, fauns, satyrs, foliots, Robin Goodfellows, pucks, leprechauns, pukas, sidhe, trolls-the few that remain live hidden in the woods and are rarely seen or encountered by human beings.If you must give me a name, call me hobgoblin.

Or better yet, I am a changeling-a word that describes within its own name what we are bound and intended to do. We kidnap a human child and replace him or her with one of our own. The hobgoblin becomes the child, and the child becomes a hobgoblin. Not any boy or girl will do, but only those rare souls baffled by their young lives or attuned to the weeping troubles of this world. The changelings select carefully, for such opportunities might come along only once a decade or so. A child who becomes part of our society might have to wait a century before his turn in the cycle arrives, when he can become a changeling and reenter the human world.

Preparation is tedious, involving close surveillance of the child, and of his friends and family. This must be done unobserved, of course, and it's best to select the child before he begins school, because it becomes more complicated by then, having to memorize and process a great deal of information beyond the intimate family, and being able to mimic his personality and history as clearly as mirroring his physique and features. Infants are the easiest, but caring for them is a problem for the changelings. Age six or seven is best. Anyone much older is bound to have a more highly developed sense of self. No matter how old or young, the object is to deceive the parents into thinking that this changeling is actually their child. More easily done than most people imagine.

No, the difficulty lies not in assuming a child's history but in the painful physical act of the change itself. First, start with the bones and skin, stretching until one shudders and nearly snaps into the right size and body shape. Then the others begin work on one's new head and face, which require the skills of a sculptor. There's considerable pushing and pulling at the cartilage, as if the skull were a soft wad of clay or taffy, and then the malicious business with the teeth, the removal of the hair, and the tedious -re-weaving. The entire process occurs without a gram of painkiller, although a few imbibe a noxious alcohol made from the fermented mash of acorns. A nasty undertaking, but well worth it, although I could do without the rather complicated rearrangement of the genitals. In the end, one is an exact copy of a child. Thirty years ago, in 1949, I was a changeling who became a human again.

I changed lives with Henry Day, a boy born on a farm outside of town. On a late summer's afternoon, when he was seven, Henry ran away from home and hid in a hollow chestnut tree. Our changeling spies followed him and raised the alarm, and I transformed myself into his perfect facsimile. We grabbed him, and I slipped into the hollowed space to switch my life for his. When the search party found me that night, they were happy, relieved, and proud-not angry, as I had expected. "Henry," a -red-haired man in a fireman's suit said to me as I pretended to sleep in the hiding place. I opened my eyes and gave him a bright smile. The man wrapped me in a thin blanket and carried me out of the woods to a paved road, where a fire truck stood waiting, its red light pulsing like a heartbeat. The firemen took me home to Henry's parents, to my new father and mother. As we drove along the road that night, I kept thinking that if that first test could be passed, the world would once again be mine.

It is a commonly held myth that, among the birds and the beasts, the mother recognizes her young as her own and will refuse a stranger thrust into the den or the nest. This is not so. In fact, the cuckoo commonly lays its eggs in other birds' nests, and despite its extraordinary size and voracious appetite, the cuckoo chick receives as much, indeed more, maternal care, often to the point of driving the other chicks from their lofty home. Sometimes the mother bird starves her own offspring because of the cuckoo's incessant demands. My first task was to create the fiction that I was the real Henry Day. Unfortunately, humans are more suspicious and less tolerant of intruders in the nest.

The rescuers knew only that they were looking for a young boy lost in the woods, and I could remain mute. After all, they had found someone and were therefore content. As the fire truck lurched up the driveway to the Days' home, I vomited against the bright red door, a vivid mess of acorn mash, watercress, and the exoskeletons of a number of small insects. The fireman patted me on the head and scooped me up, blanket and all, as if I were of no more consequence than a rescued kitten or an abandoned baby. Henry's father leapt from the porch to gather me in his arms, and with a strong embrace and warm kisses reeking of smoke and alcohol, he welcomed me home as his only son. The mother would be much harder to fool.

Her face betrayed her every emotion: blotchy skin, chapped with salty tears, her pale blue eyes rimmed in red, her hair matted and disheveled. She reached out for me with trembling hands and emitted a small sharp cry, the kind a rabbit makes when in the distress of the snare. She wiped her eyes on her shirtsleeve and wrapped me in the wracking shudder of a woman in love. Then she began laughing in that deep coloratura.

"Henry? Henry?" She pushed me away and held on to my shoulders at arm's length. "Let me look at you. Is it really you?"

"I'm sorry, Mom."

She brushed away the bangs hiding my eyes and then pulled me against her breast. Her heart beat against the side of my face, and I felt hot and uncomfortable.

"You needn't worry, my little treasure. You're home and safe and sound, and that's all that matters. You've come back to me."

Dad cupped the back of my head with his large hand, and I thought this homecoming tableau might go on forever. I squirmed free and dug out the handkerchief from Henry's pocket, crumbs spilling to the floor.

"I'm sorry I stole the biscuit, Mom."

She laughed, and a shadow passed behind her eyes. Maybe she had been wondering up to that point if I was indeed her flesh and blood, but mentioning the biscuit did the trick. Henry had stolen one from the table when he ran away from home, and while the others took him to the river, I stole and pocketed it. The crumbs proved that I was hers.

Well after midnight, they put me to bed, and such a comfort may be the greatest invention of mankind. In any case, it tops sleeping in a hole in the cold ground, a moldy rabbit skin for your pillow, and the grunts and sighs of a dozen changelings anxious in their dreams. I stretched out like a stick between the crisp sheets and pondered my good fortune. Many tales exist of failed changelings who are uncovered by their presumptive families. One child who showed up in a Nova Scotia fishing village so frightened his poor parents that they fled their own home in the middle of a snowstorm and were later found frozen and bobbing in the frigid harbor. A changeling girl, age six, so shocked her new parents when she opened her mouth to speak that, thus frightened, they poured hot wax into each other's ears and never heard another sound. Other parents, upon learning that their child had been replaced by changelings, had their hair turn white overnight, were stunned into catatonia, heart attacks, or sudden death. Worse yet, though rare, other families drive out the creature through exorcism, banishment, abandonment, murder. Seventy years ago, I lost a good friend after he forgot to make himself look older as he aged. Convinced he was a devil, his parents tied him up like an unwanted kitten in a gunnysack and threw him down a well. Most of the time, though, the parents are confounded by the sudden change of their son or daughter, or one spouse blames the other for their queer fortune. It is a risky endeavor and not for the fainthearted.

That I had come this far undetected caused me no small satisfaction, but I was not completely at ease. A half hour after I had gone to bed, the door to my room swung open slowly. Framed against the hallway light, Mr. and Mrs. Day stuck their heads through the opening. I shut my eyes to mere slits and pretended to be sleeping. Softly, but persistently, she was sobbing. None could cry with such dexterity as Ruth Day. "We have to mend our ways, Billy. You have to make sure this never happens again."

"I know, I promise," he whispered. "Look at him sleeping, though. 'The innocent sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleeve of care.'"

He pulled shut the door and left me in the darkness. My fellow changelings and I had been spying on the boy for months, so I knew the contours of my new home at the edge of the forest. Henry's view of their few acres and the world beyond was magical. Outside, the stars shone through the window above a jagged row of firs. Through the open windows, a breeze blew across the top of the sheets, and moths beat their wings in retreat from their perches on the window screen. The nearly full moon reflected enough light into the space to reveal the dim pattern on the wallpaper, the crucifix above my head, pages torn from magazines and newspapers tacked along the wall. A baseball mitt and ball rested on top of the bureau, and on the washstand a pitcher and bowl glowed as white as phosphorous. A short stack of books lay propped against the bowl, and I could barely contain my excitement at the prospect of reading come morning.

The twins began bawling at the break of day. I padded down the hallway, past my new parents' room, following the sound. The babies hushed the moment they saw me, and I am sure that had they the gifts of reason and speech, Mary and Elizabeth would have said "You're not Henry" the moment I walked into the room. But they were mere tots, with more teeth than sentences, and could not articulate the mysteries of their young minds. With their clear wide eyes, they regarded my every move with quiet attentiveness. I tried smiling, but no smiles were returned. I tried making funny faces, tickling them under their fat chins, dancing like a puppet, and whistling like a mockingbird, but they simply watched, passive and inert as two dumb toads. Racking my brain to find a way to get through to them, I recalled other occasions when I had encountered something in the forest as helpless and dangerous as these two human children. Walking along in a lonesome glen, I had come across a bear cub separated from its mother. The frightened animal let out such a godforsaken scream that I half expected to be surrounded by every bear in the mountains. Despite my powers with animals, there was nothing to be done with a monster that could have ripped me open with a single swat. By crooning to the beast, I soothed it, and remembering this, I did so with my newfound sisters. They were enchanted by the sound of my voice and began at once to coo and clap their chubby hands while long strings of drool ran down their chins. "Twinkle, Twinkle" and "Bye, Baby Bunting" reassured or convinced them that I was close enough to be their brother, or preferable to their brother, but who knows for certain what thoughts flitted through their simple minds. They gurgled, and they gooed. In between songs, for counterpoint, I would talk to them in Henry's voice, and gradually they came to believe-or abandon their sense of disbelief.

Mrs. Day bustled into the babies' room, humming and tra-la-la-ing. Her general girth and amplitude amazed me; I had seen her many times before, but not quite at such close quarters. From the safety of the woods, she had seemed more or less the same as all adult humans, but in person, she assumed a singular tenderness, though she smelled faintly sour, a perfume of milk and yeast. She danced across the floor, throwing open curtains, dazzling the room with golden morning, and the girls, brightened by her presence, pulled themselves up by the slats of their cribs. I smiled at her, too. It was all I could do to keep from bursting into joyous laughter. She smiled back at me as if I were her only son.

"Help me with your sisters, would you, Henry?"

I picked up the nearest girl and announced very pointedly to my new mother, "I'll take Elizabeth." She was as heavy as a badger. It is a curious feeling to hold an infant one is not planning to steal; the very young convey a pleasant softness.

The girls' mother stopped and stared at me, and for a beat, she looked puzzled and uncertain. "How did you know that was Elizabeth? You've never been able to tell them apart."

"That's easy, Mom. Elizabeth has two dimples when she smiles and her name's longer, and Mary has just one."

"Aren't you the clever one?" She picked up Mary and headed off downstairs.

Excerpted from The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Keith Donohue is the Director of Communications for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the grant-making arm of the National Archives in Washington, DC. Until 1998 he worked at the National Endowment for the Arts and wrote hundreds of speeches for chairmen John Frohnmayer and Jane Alexander. He has written articles for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other newspapers. Donohue holds a Ph.D. in English from The Catholic University of America. His dissertation on Irish writer Flann O'Brien was published as The Irish Anatomist: A Study of Flann O'Brien (Maunsel Press, 2003).

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Stolen Child 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 58 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Mischievous hobgoblins (an oxymoron) abduct seven years old Henry Day and replace him with an identically looking doppelganger. Over time the human Henry adapts to living with the hobgoblins though he notices major differences between him and his ¿family¿ for instance unlike him, they never seem to get older or wiser. The replacement Hobgoblin Henry uses his skills of a copy cat to create a successful musical career stealing the sound from talented humans he too has adjusted to being a human life. --- Still over the years the two Henrys consistently feel out of place in their respective world, and that sense of not belonging grows even as they adjust to their environs. Neither can hold a relationship for even a small time period as their alienation widens. Soon each looks back to their early childhood to try to learn why they feel like such an outsider, but their memories are murky at best and seem impossible to have been real. Impossible that is until decades later when Henry meets Henry. --- Though a fantasy, THE STOLEN CHILD is more a deep character study that digs inside the souls (can a hobgoblin have a soul?) of two individuals who have always felt estranged and unhappy with their respective lives as neither believe they belong. The story line cleverly rotates between the Henrys over the years with each passing chapter in their lives just compounding the sentiment of alienation with those around them. Fans will appreciate this powerful yet low keyed (at least the paranormal elements) tale star strangers in a strange land though each has grown up as part of the landscape. --- Harriet Klausner
Guest More than 1 year ago
I finished this book several days ago and it still has a grip on me. The contrast of the two perspectives is what made this book work so well. Timelessness vs. time, Adult vs. child, Growing up vs. stunted 'emotional' growth, living vs. existing. There are unanswered questions in this book, and its not all spelled out for the reader. So, if you do not like to think and if you like the author to do all the work don't bother reading this. Also, this book is Character driven, not action driven. It is a search into the very fabric of who we are and who we are not. Be ready for those one-liners that make you stop reading and say 'wow...let me think about that a second' and be ready for the desire to jump into the story. There is one line in the story I think readers should keep in mind when they finish the book, 'Novelists construct elaborate lies to throw off readers from discovering the meaning behind the words and symbols, as if it could be known.' This is a great book. And I think I will always be haunted by it, it has changed me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book quite a bit it was a great story told in afun and interesting new way. I really like that it is a modern fantasy book that is not just told from a teen point if view. Refreshing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very well written and such a touching ending!
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Interesting. It has great potential! ~Cori, author of Two Worlds Collide
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great story !
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Don't miss this. Compelling concept and great stpry telling. Beginning is slow but leads to adventure and a moving finale.
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