The Borrower: A Novel

By Rebecca Makkai
Publisher:Viking Adult, (6/9/2011)

Average Rating:
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3.80 out of 5 (5 Clubie's ratings)

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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?
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Steph's thoughts on "The Borrower: A Novel"
updated on:9/12/2011

I had some mixed feelings about The Borrower.  That's not to say that I didn't like it.  In fact, I liked it very much overall.  The writing was inviting from the first page, the humor was fantastic, and the characters were engaging.  So far so really good.  It was the ending that lost me a bit.  Even though I was caught up in Lucy and Ian's road trip gone awry and was ultimately rooting for them to not get caught, for some crazy reason, I felt let down that Lucy did "get away with it".  Maybe I watch too many crime shows or was longing for a moral to the story.  There were times throughout their adventures that a voice in my head would scream, "just put an end to this madness", but mostly the unlikely partnering of a boy and his librarian made for a very enjoyable read.  I especially love the "how to (insert activity here) like a 10-year old boy" lists. and the smart and nostalgic references to childrens' books (with extra credit for the title of this book, which I'm guessing is a nod to The Borrowers series by Mary Norton).  I breezed through this book easily and would hope to see more by author Rebecca Makkai.  

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Sam's thoughts on "The Borrower: A Novel"
updated on:9/7/2011

Duped into kidnapping her favorite library patron, Lucy, still finds a way to entertain her boyfriend, visit with the family, and run errands for the Russian mafia… all while maintaining her innocence and keeping young Ian out of the hands of the evil Pastor Bob. Now that is a girl I want to know! Oh, and she encourages Ian to be himself, despite others trying to steer him "straight" AND comes up with an amazing book list of must reads for the "trying to be brainwashed"… yet she does it in a nonchalant water-rolling-off-a-ducks-back fashion. She is impressive - no doubt! But the real show stealer is Ian. Determined, not sneak around and be gay (as what 10 years old would?), Ian is determined to READ. Running away to the library! Now that is a fantasy life of a cool kid - to live in the library! (Seriously, how fun would that be?) But once he realizes the jig is up, he manipulates Lucy into kidnapping him. These two oh-so-smart and witty characters are off on a real life adventure. One that I am sure you will enjoy journeying on as much as I did. Wonderful prose, clever dialogue, and GREAT characters make this book a winner!

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Nick's thoughts on "The Borrower: A Novel"
updated on:9/4/2011

If you read enough novels, you discover that some clumsily plod from one chapter to another, and others just plain work. "The Borrower" just plain works. There is nothing super earth-shattering or mind-blowing about the story of a librarian on the run with an oddball kid on the run from his family. There are no big, unexpected plot twists or gimmicks. But you care about the characters and the story keeps you going from one page to the next. It's easy to empathize with Lucy who truly means well and is looking out for the well being of her young friend, but winds up way over her head. And there is enough happening along the margins with Lucy's friends and shady Russian family (I think Lucy's father might be the most interesting character in the book, actually) to keep what is a pretty basic story interesting. This book is light on its feet, and a fun read with a thoughtful ending. And on a totally unrelated note, I really dig the cover art. Looks good on my bookshelf.

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Ceci's thoughts on "The Borrower: A Novel"
updated on:9/2/2011

I don't know if it it is just a publishing trend or the making of a new literary genre, but it seems like everywhere I turn there is another novel with a plot revolving around books. The Borrower is the latest entry in this pack, but it stands out by avoiding trite messages about the wonder of literature. Books can soothe, invigorate, and empower us. Sadly, though, books may not be able to save you from life's hardships. Even though we might like to think otherwise. This message brought to you by Lucy, an accidental librarian, who accidentally kidnaps/rescues Ian, a young book lover with an apparently troubled home life. I loved Ian from the moment he confessed that he had to tell his mom the library reading group was reading Little House in the Big Woods rather than Matilda because "she didn't even like Fantastic Mr. Fox." Poor kid. Lucy is less lovable, but her wry tone and lovely Russian mob family are just as entertaining. There are some lulls here and there, but overall great characters, snappy dialogue, and enough suspense to keep you hanging in there.

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Book Junky's thoughts on "The Borrower: A Novel"
updated on:9/2/2011

Things to like about this book: 
1. Ian - OMG, could this precocious little guy be any more lovable? 
2. The writing - I was just about jumping up and down in my seat as started reading this. Some books are just fun to read. This is one of them. 
3. Taking on the issue of "converting" homosexuals. There are soooo many different people in the world - ACCEPT OTHERS FOR WHO THEY ARE!!!! Ok, now you know where I fall on this discussion. ;)
4. The reference and promotion of several different fun books for kids. Lots of fun blasts from the past that made you realize how books HAVE influenced us.
5. The ending. Though initially I was disappointed, I quickly realized the point that we can never really know how we touch another's life. Good point to hold in mind.
6. And taking on the topic of how our up-bring influences us. Interesting discussion point again.

Things that were ahh… "so-so" about this book:
1. The Mr. Shadey plot line was a tad too predictable. 
2. The book does seem to meander a little longer than it need be.
3. I would have liked to know more about the rally anyhow one missing boy effected a movement. (But that could just be me.)

Read it! Such a hot issue to discuss presented in SUCH a fun way. Easy fun read that you will not be disappointed with at Book Club. 

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"The Borrower: A Novel"
By Rebecca Makkai

Average Rating:
Unleash it
3.80 out of 5 (5 Clubie's ratings)

The Gentleman
The Gentleman
By Forrest Leo

 General reading guide discussion questions to be used with ANY book your book club or reading group might be discussing.

In the eyes of the law, taking Ian away from Hannibal is a criminal act, but it's difficult to fault Lucy for her actions. Do you trust Lucy's version of events? Is she a reliable narrator?

Lucy claims that "Hannibal" is not the town's true name. Do you think that "Hull" is her true name or did she choose it because it fits "snug between Huck and Humbert" (p. 2)?

Under what circumstances is it acceptable to take a child away from its parents? Based on what you know about Janet Drake, is she an "unfit" parent?

Who is "the borrower" in the novel?

Sophie Bennett, a teacher at Ian's school, tells Lucy that Ian will "do fine no matter what. Shit will hit the fan when he announces he's gay, but he'll get through it" (p. 25). Is Ian as resilient as Sophie thinks?

Even though she was born in America, Lucy frequently meditates on her Russian heritage. Do you think Americans ever completely shrug off the shadow of their ancestors' homeland?

The "reformed" homosexual Pastor Bob is both a hilarious and tragic character. Is he driven purely by profit, or do you think he truly believes it's possible and right to change one's own sexual orientation?

What were the seminal books of your childhood? Are any of them mentioned in The Borrower?

In many ways, The Borrower is Lucy's coming-of-age story as much as it is about Ian. Is she—like Jim in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn—freed at the end of the novel, or—like Humbert in Lolita—diminished by her experiences?

Do you agree with Lucy when she writes: "You think you can't go home again? It's the only place you can ever go" (p. 301)

Does one have to first become a parent—or, in Lucy's case, a parent proxy—in order to come to terms with one's own parents?

Books have been written and accessible for only a fraction of humankind's time on earth. Can you imagine living in a world without literature? How might your life have turned out differently if there were no books to read?

Clubie Submitted Discussion Questions
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"[Lucy's] relationship with Ian is charming and original...A stylish and clever tale for bibliophiles who enjoy authors like Jasper Fforde and Connie Willis." 
-Library Journal 

"Makkai takes several risks in her sharp, often witty text, replete with echoes of children's classics fromGoodnight Moon to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, as well as more ominous references to Lolita . . . 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." 
-Kirkus Reviews 

"The Borrower proves [Makkai] is a great writer...This is a wonderfully entertaining story packed with moral conundrums and beautiful writing." 
-Patrick Neale, co-owner, Jaffé & Neale Bookshop & Café, in The Bookseller

“Rarely is a first novel as smart and engaging and learned and funny and moving as The Borrower. Rebecca Makkai is a writer to watch, as sneakily ambitious as she is unpretentious.”
      —Richard Russo, Pulitzer Prize-winning author (Richard Russo )

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