Noah Barleywater Runs Away Hardcover – 1900
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The story begins with Noah Barleywater (obviously) running away. We follow him through several villages, where odd things happen which seem vaguely reminicent of the Wizard of Oz. Eventually he ends up at a toy shop, and the owner befriends him. The shop owner tells stories of his own life and gradually draws Noah's story out as well.
Noah's reason for flight is unexplained but heavily foreshadowed throughout the book. His first few adventures were enjoyable, but after a while, my son didn't care. I suspect that foreshadowing leading up to the revelation at the end is a plot device better suited to adult novels than children's lit.
The subtitle is "A Fairy Tale," and that's important. John Boyne does not spend any time preparing the reader for the "world" the book is taking place in. So strange, fantasical things start happening without any preparation or much set-up. That's fine, but it does get a little confusing because the reader has no frame of reference yet. The biggest flaw is the narrative does not build as it goes, so it never seems like its building to a clear climax. Each chapter feels a bit the same. Creative and interesting, but repititious.
Still, the writing and situations should be fun and entertaining for a young reader, but they'll need to be patient early on and not let any confusion get the best of them.
For an adult reader, this is actually a decent read too, though it's certainly not marketed that way.
From the back of the book:
Eight-year-old Noah's problems seem easier to deal with if he doesn't think about them. So he runs away, taking an untrodden path through the forest. Before long he comes across a shop. But this is no ordinary shop. It is a toy shop, full of the most amazing toys and brimming with the most wonderful magic. And here Noah meets a very unusual toymaker. The toymaker has a story to tell and it's a a story of adventure and wonder, and broken promises. He takes Noah on a journey. A journey that will change his life. And it could change yours too.
I had a rather strange reaction to this book. I both liked and disliked this book. When I first started reading it I decided it was not my cup of tea, but I as I kept reading I found myself drawn into the story. There are a lot of hints at just what Noah is running away from and just who the toymaker really is. I kept reading to see if my guesses were right. They were. But I'm still not sure I liked this book.
What I liked about the book: The writing is very colorful and imaginative. Boyne paints some wonderful word pictures. I enjoyed revisiting an old childhood favorite. (If you want to know what fairy tale reappears in this book, you will need to read it for yourself, I don't want to spoil it for you.)
What I didn't like about the book: Though the writing was imaginative, it was also rather strange. It's a truly fractured retelling of a childhood favorite. It's also gloomy. Amazon lists the reading level as 9-12, but I'm not convinced this is really a kids book. Even though the story is about an eight year old boy, it really feels more like an adult novel.
Mrs. Archer's rating: 3 of 5.