20 July 2012

Neither a borrower...

The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai. 

Lucy Hull works as a children's librarian in a town called Hannibal, Missouri,  though not the real-life one. 

This Hannibal had no river, but it had a highway straight through town, and if you drove past and saw only the McDonald's, the Citgo, the grime and corn and car fumes, you'd never know the hedged lawns, the schools with untattered flags, the big houses to the west and the smaller ones east with their gravel drives and shiny mailboxes.

Lucy kind of stumbles into her job.  With an undergraduate degree in English, she accepts a temporary job in the aforementioned town and ends up staying for four years. 

One of her patrons, a boy named Ian Drake, loves to come to the library.  He's truly a book lover, and devours everything she gives him.  When one day Ian's mother gives her a list of subjects and books he's not allowed, she realizes that his parents are very strict Christians. 

Over time, Lucy notices troubling changes in Ian's behavior.  She mentions it to colleagues, who tell her she's making mountains out of molehills.  But when she learns that his parents have enrolled him in classes with a fundamentalist pastor who is known for "reforming" gay kids, she is truly worried.

The ensuing events are almost predictable.  Ian is a very clever boy, and Lucy is ripe for being manipulated.  There is some unexpected comedy when they decide to spend a night at her parents' home in Chicago and Lucy's father attempts to be helpful. 

What's best about this book (besides the narrator's distinct perspective) to this former youth librarian,  is Makkai's riffs on popular children's books.  Some are funny, some are melancholy, but all are charming. 

People have been writing novels for centuries, and though it must be getting increasingly difficult to invent new stories and develop unique styles of writing, Makkai has managed it with her first novel.

 By the way, you don't have to be a children's librarian to enjoy this book, but some knowledge of children's literature will definitely help!

*FTC Full Disclosure: Many thanks to the publisher, who sent me a copy of the book for review purposes.

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