Stay Where You Are And Then LeaveStay Where You Are And Then Leave by John Boyne

Alfie’s dad volunteered to serve in the British army to fight in World War I the first day available. His family was not happy about Georgie volunteering, but he thought maybe he’d be put in a better position than if he was drafted. This is all when Alfie was 5. Now, Alfie is 9. Georgie used to write the family and his mother would read aloud the letters. But after a while, his mother just hid them under the bed and refused to read them. Alfie would sneak the letters out and read them to himself. These letters didn’t tell funny stories. These letters begged to come home and talked about how Georgie had to run out of the trenches each night and carry stretchers of dead men back. And even after that, the letters stopped making sense at all. And then they stopped. Alfie was convinced his father was dead and his mom just didn’t want to tell him. She said that Georgie was on a secret mission and he was busy fighting so he couldn’t talk to them.

Because the breadwinner was at war, Alfie’s mom took on several jobs working night shift as a nurse and washing rich people’s clothes. Alfie was upset his mother never got to sleep, so he stole a shoe shine box from his vacant neighbor’s apartment and started shining shoes at the train station instead of going to school. And he was good at it. He would slip his earnings into his mother’s purse when she wasn’t looking.

One day, while Alfie is shining shoes, a doctor sits for a shoe shine and drops a sheaf of papers. On it, Alfie spots his dad’s name and saves his earnings to take the train to the hospital and visit him. The rest I will leave to the readers.

This is an amazing novel to show the realities of World War I and the different political issues. “Conchies,” the conscientious objectors were treated horribly and even tame women came up to them and quietly gave them a feather as a symbol for cowardice. Georgie’s best friend and next door neighbor is a conchie and readers see how he is treated, but also why he objects to the war.

We see PTSD and its effects on families. How PTSD wasn’t recognized back then. How the public thought they were just men faking a problem no one could see because they were too chicken to go fight. And how soldiers with PTSD really act. We get to see Alfie’s reaction to having to play a grown up role and realizing that something is wrong.

There are also really good conversations in here about why people fight and why they don’t. When you fight, fighting for your country is different from defending yourself. Many soldiers want to be in on the action until they went to the front lines. Many people didn’t want to fight at all because they didn’t believe in killing, especially when those people did nothing specifically to them as an individual. They’re good topics to think on.

And the narrator for the audio books handles all of the English, “posh,” soldier speak, Welsch, Australian, and other European accents well. The narrator also deftly shows the mood swings and strange talking from the shell shock men in high contrast to Alfie’s little boy panic.

Read-aliks: (kind of) The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson