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Carry Me Down [Hardcover]

M. J. Hyland
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

February 2006 1841957402 978-1841957401
Carry Me Down is an engrossing story that at its heart examines an adolescent’s difficulties navigating the world. John Egan is a misfit — a twelve-year-old in the body of a grown man with the voice of a giant — who diligently keeps track of the lies large and small that are told to him. John’s been able to detect lies for as long as he can remember; it’s a source of power but also great consternation for someone so young. With an obsession for the Guinness Book of World Records, a keenly inquisitive mind, and a kind of faith, John remains hopeful despite the unfavorable cards life deals him. John is like a tuning fork, sensitive to the vibrations within himself and the trouble that this creates for him and his family, and when his sanity reaches near collapse, a frightening family catastrophe threatens to destroy them. Carry Me Down is a restrained, emotionally taut, and sometimes oddly funny portrait whose drama drives toward, but narrowly averts, an unthinkable disaster.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. A spare, piercing testimony to the bewilderment and resiliency of youth, Hyland's second novel (following How the Light Gets In) filters the adult world through the distressed lens of adolescence, which makes every change look like a test of survival. John Egan is an extremely tall 11-year-old boy living in the small town of Gorey, Ireland, with the moody triumvirate of his mother, father and grandmother. As he faces the trials of home and school life, John feels he has no place in the world, and his frustration fuels odd obsessions: with the Guinness Book of World Records, with physical human contact and with his "gift" for detecting lies. His parents, already sorting through their own uneasy relationship, puzzle over their only son with doctors and teachers, pushing John to a moment of crisis, which may prove his undoing. John's voice is singular and powerful throughout: "I wait anxiously for my turn, thinking that he'll soon discover me and know that I'm different. I've already decided that I'll tell him about my gift." By the subtle, satisfying dénouement, one is rooting for John's place in the Guinness book and saving a space for him among the year's memorable characters. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

At 11, John Egan is nearly six feet tall with a deep voice, and he feels like a freak, especially after he wets himself in class. John believes he is a gifted human lie detector, and he himself is a great liar; his obsession is to be famous and have his gift recognized in the Guinness Book of World Records. But why is Dad lying? The child's naive first-person, present-tense narrative brings achingly close his helplessness in a powerful adult world. He may be a giant, but he has no control. Why suddenly is the family moving? Where to? What is wrong? When they land up in the public-housing projects in Dublin, the scary threat seems to be from a brutal street gang, but the real terror turns out to be in the intimacy of his home. Focused on small things, the quiet plain scenes of daily life lead to the surprising and unforgettable climax. Pain is harder than ignorance. Who needs the truth? Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars It's not easy gowing up. April 8 2011
By Heather Pearson TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
John Egan is just twelve years old, yet he is the size of a full grown adult. His teachers and parents find it hard to accept that he is still a child. Like many children that age, he is pre-occupied with a number of items. He loves the Guinness Book of World Records and reads and re-reads them. He yearns to travel to Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada and visit the Guinness Museum. He is uncomfortable when people lie to him, so much so that he feels he has become a human lie detector. On top of growing through the difficult pre-teen years, John's home life is not stable. He lives with his parents in his grandmother's small cottage. His father hasn't held a job in three years. Things go from bad to worse on a day when John is attempting to set a record for the longest time a person spends without going to the washroom.

I found this a difficult story to listen to. To me it felt that the adults were not listening to John. He didn't see anything as changing other than the fact that he was tall. He was still the same child he had been the day before, yet now his mom was pulling away and didn't want to be hugged. His teacher's were treating him differently than his fellow classmates who were smaller. Even his principal centred him out and had private discussions with John. Talk about making a kids feel odd and out of place.

Either I missed the back story of John entirely, or all the adults built a mountain out of a mole hill and they contrived to get John into an un-tenable position. I thought that John was normal and behaving like any boy his age and that it was the parents, and teachers that were behaving badly.
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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  25 reviews
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Heartrending, long after you've closed the cover Aug. 28 2006
By Bluestalking Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Carry Me Down leaves you with a lump in the throat after you've closed the cover. It's such an authentic portrait of what it is to be a lonely adolescent who's an awkward misfit, though thankfully not every lonely adolescent tries to smother his mother.

The focus of this book is on the brutality of childhood, as well as the huge impact parents play in forming the psyches of their children. Though not an abused child per se, John Egan is raised by somewhat unstable parents who don't always provide him with the emotional and financial stability he so desperately needs. He becomes a compulsive liar who's convinced he has a preternatural ability to detect lies in others, and as such he's somewhat an unreliable narrator. The reader can read between the lines and get a good general idea of the truth, by knowing the reactions of the other characters, so the occasional delusions of John are easily seen through. He is a liar, but not a sophisticated one. There's a lot of innocence in him, through it all, and this is what gets our sympathy. He's a child who needs a lot of love and who gets precious little, and that's what breaks the reader's heart more than anything.

After finishing this book last evening I cannot get it out of my head. It's dark and sometimes depressing, but in the end redemptive. No wonder the Booker committee chose it. It illustrates a very good instinct for picking out another up-and-comer to watch.

I expect Hyland may not have the visibility to actually win the prize, but this is one of the most heart-rending books I've read in a while, and it definitely deserves making the Longlist. It's so worth making the effort to fit this one into your reading schedule.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quietly disturbing and deftly written March 17 2007
By A Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
After I had read the first 20 or so pages of this book, I thought I might have to put it down and not read the rest. There is a scene of such quiet violence inside an otherwise placid domestic setting that I could not bear to read it. But I did continue, at first through slightly squinting eyes (not to be caught off-guard again), and quickly found that I couldn't put the book down. One might say that 'nothing happens' (as I've read earlier here), but I'd argue that everything happens. We watch as the author carefully and quietly dessimates an entire personality before our eyes. She never releases the tension, from scene to scene (I had much trouble sleeping at night after reading this -- a warning to other bedtime readers), and I couldn't stop turning the pages. I did have a little trouble with some of her characters who are slipped in but never developed: the teacher, Mr. Roche, is a complete mystery to me (what did he want with John? What was that all about?). The gang who threatens John disappears as if they never existed, despite the fact that he does not complete the task they set for him. The author always comes back to this troubled triumverate of a family (calling them dysfunctional does not even begin to describe the destructive forces inside them). I wish I knew someone who's read the book so that we can analyze it to death. The parents seem to love the boy genuinely, and yet they also seem to fear him, and to infantalize him. The broken aspects of their marriage, and the psychological violence that springs from it, has a profound affect on the boy which they seem never to realize (until, perhaps, the end, and even then it's hard to tell if they really do see, or if they've made a pact to ignore it). The reader watches the boy's personality slowly break, but it's done with such fierce tenderness -- the contradictions in this writing are, I think, profound. And to call the ending 'redemptive' is, to me, inaccurate. I felt relief to find them back in the place where they began, and yet the dysfunctions remain. One wonders who John Egan will grow up to be; there is no real healing here, only an attempt to be loved again. That paradox kept me awake late into the night after I finished this. A tour de force, I think, despite some quibbling flaws.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Liars May 9 2007
By Roger Brunyate - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The narrator of this story, John Egan, an 11-year-old Irish schoolboy, wants to get into the Guinness Book of Records as a human lie-detector. An only child, clever but thank goodness not precociously so, he tries to make sense of the world around him, but sees only its inconsistencies. Things are changing too fast: his body undergoes an unexpected growth spurt, his voice begins to change, he encounters problems at school, and some trouble erupts between his out-of-work father and long-suffering mother. The one thing he does know is when he is being lied to, and before long he has begun lying himself in self-defence. Almost imperceptibly at first, his life begins to spiral downwards, reaching a climax towards the end which makes everybody around him stop and take stock. Paradoxically, the trigger for this near-disaster is not another lie, but John's insistence on the truth; one of the most interesting aspects of Hyland's writing is her ability to see the shadings in what others might regard as moral absolutes.

A summary of the story might make it appear relentlessly grim, but not so. Despite the rural Irish setting circa 1969, this is no piece of Celtic Gothic, but something that might be written of families anywhere. John is a sympathetic character, often funny, and surprisingly resilient. For most of the book, the story seems like some kind of preadolescent adventure. The climax, when it comes, takes you by surprise, although you can recognize the earlier hints if you think back. Also, Hyland does not leave the reader with an entirely bleak ending; there is hope around the corner. But (partly from personal experience) I do feel that the ending is a little simplistic; the implied upward trajectory is likely to be neither short nor easy. Nor entirely one-sided; the emphasis on the troubled child hides the fact that his father may be an even more deeply disturbed character, and this is something that is neither fully explored nor satisfactorily resolved.

But for all its troubling elements, CARRY ME DOWN also contains great warmth which I think will last long after the book has been returned to its shelf.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tall Irish Boy Searches for Place in the World Jan. 26 2007
By pen and paper - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Eleven-year-old John Egan is tall and deep-voiced for his age, straightaway making other people -- his parents, his teachers, a doctor --think he needs help, that he should feel out of place. But he's out of place in ways that have more to do with his family's financial circumstances than his physique. Certain -- delusorily so -- that he can do something so great he will one day be mentioned in the Guiness Book of World Records, John figures out that his great talent is detecting lies: his ears grow hot, other physical things happen, he just knows what's true and what's not.

Carry Me Down is sad but charming, and because John is so loveable and fascinating, I enjoyed this book tremendously. At times it was funny. Once or twice I cried. Highly recommended.
15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Charming Character Sept. 30 2006
By Katrina Denza - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In M. J. Hyland's latest novel a boy whose large size already casts him as being different, strives to set himself apart officially, by making it into his favorite book, the Guiness Book of World Records. John Egan believes he can do this by being the world's only human lie-detector. In the background, his family struggles with his father's choice to pursue his dream rather than keep a steady job and John suffers humiliation from his peers after he wets himself in class. Hyland's writing is clear and lovely; her characters, unforgettable and charming.
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