Sunday, February 8, 2009

We all miss our childhood

Come away, O human child
To the waters and the wild

With a faery, hand in hand,

For the world's more full

of weeping than you

can understand.

-W. B. Yeats

Imagine if your childhood was stolen from you. Think of all the carefree days spent playing under the sun, eating candy with abandon, expecting anything, fearing nothing. Childhood is that most magical of time explored in Keith Donohue's wonderful first novel, The Stolen Child. If you can find a copy, get it. The last time I checked, local bookstores do not carry copies anymore.

The Stolen Child was the best book I read last 2007. I first came to hear about it while browsing through the latest releases in The premise was so original, and I felt I just had to read it before anybody else. I eventually placed my order along with Scott Smith's The Ruins, a terrible, cheesy, and campy horror novel. After 4 weeks of anticipating its arrival, the hardback finally came. With my gauge 8 plastic sheet (more on covering books soon), I wrapped the book and immediately read it.

In the book, Henry Day, the main character, is stolen by changelings and is forced to join their mythical world. These changelings apparently have the habit of stealing young children and replacing him or her with one of their own. To do this, the changelings spy on the prospect child constantly for several months, with the replacement changeling slowly taking on the child's physical looks and even developing the child's personality. When Henry Day is plunged into the world of changelings, being named Aniday by the changelings, he somehow loses grasp of the memory of his childhood. Even Henry's mother tongue is eventually replaced by the strange language of the changelings.

As you read through the novel, you'll realize that Aniday is different from the other changelings. He's afraid to lose all his memory of his family, forcing himself to spy on his parents and the changeling who replaced him. He even manages to make himself visible to his father and communicate with him, but his strange changeling language and his changed appearance scare his father away. In a way, Aniday's hanging on to his childhood is his last desperate attempt to cling to his identity.

Donohue's beautiful writing never disappoints throughout the book. His vivid description of the strange world of the changelings, Aniday's frustration as he loses his memory, language, and looks, and his father's anxiety at the thought that his child is a stranger are remarkable. The book pulls you in. You get lost in the two worlds it presents -- the darkly alluring world of the changelings and the prosaic and melodramatic human world. The narrative constantly shifts between these two settings, but it never feels disjointed. It retains its cohesiveness even when Donohue introduces a subplot focusing on the past life of Henry Day's replacement.

The Stolen Child isn't a young adult novel despite its childhood theme. Children never appreciate anything unless you take it away from them (I guess this is true for grown ups as well). They can never relate to the brilliant complexities of the book. Adults, I believe, will find this book beautifully written but achingly sad. Nevertheless, The Stolen Child stays with you even after you turn the last page.

Read The Stolen Child if:
  1. You have this feeling that you're adopted.
  2. You still are a child at heart.
  3. You like adult fairy tales.