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The Borrower
Cover of The Borrower
The Borrower
A Novel
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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 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?
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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  • From the book 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...

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    April 4, 2011
    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.

  • Kirkus

    May 1, 2011

    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 from Goodnight Moon to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, as well as more ominous references to Lolita. 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.

    (COPYRIGHT (2011) KIRKUS REVIEWS/NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

  • Library Journal

    January 1, 2011

    Children's librarian Lucy Hall adores ten-year-old Ian Drake, her most faithful patron. Still, it's a dilemma when she discovers Ian in the library after hours, all packed up and ready to go; he's running away from his domineering mom and Pastor Bob, whose antigay classes he's forced to take. Soon, Lucy finds herself on a picaresque journey with Ian, as they travel from Missouri to Vermont with a mysterious stranger on their tail. Excellent to have a librarian and a reading-obsessed boy as protagonists, and first novelist Makkai's many stories have won praise. With foreign rights to six countries; definitely a good bet and a good book group pick.

    Copyright 2011 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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