The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Oh, where to start? I just couldn't buy into the premise no matter how much I really tried. When you have a book that essentially a two-hander, you need to like both characters - Lucy just irritated me too much for that to happen. Which is too bad because the book parodies and games are charming.
Lucy is the head children's librarian at a small public library in Missouri, reporting to an alcoholic director, living over a small theatre, and no real direction in life. One of the children that comes into her space is Ian, a voracious reader. Unfortunately, Ian's family is some flavor of evangelical and his mother comes down to the children's area demanding that he not be allowed to borrow books that didn't have "the breath of God" in them (the paranormal, for example, including classics like Tuck Everlasting). Ian rebels by hiding the books he's borrowing, and Lucy abets by checking them out under her own name.
Lucy and her friends Sophie and Rocky suspect that Ian is gay, and when Lucy learns that Ian is being sent to a sexual rehabilitation camp, she's eager to do something to help him escape what she now feels is a horrible, abusive home. One day her chance arrives: Ian's run away, much like Claudia and Jamie do, only he's hidden in the library instead of the Met. For reasons that elude Lucy (and the reader) she decides to "take him home", a trip that ends up in Vermont, near the Candaian border. She also lies about her whereabouts, who Ian is, and where she's going/what she's doing.
There's much here to delight ("If You Give a Librarian a Closet", for example), but Lucy's motivations bothered me, as did her demeanor. I'm not going to get into the argument over her even being a librarian (she doesn't have her MLS, nor is she in library school) or her feeling that the First Amendment trumps all (even the Second Amendment). It was more her certitude that she was saving Ian - who clearly wanted an adventure but seemed to not see that he needed "saving", per se - and her clumsy handling of how to save him, in addition to her eagerness to believe in the power of story to the extend that (I think) she buys into the "kidnapping" because it's just another story. I'm sure I'll be alone in this, which is fine.
ARC provided by publisher.
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