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The Borrower

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3.47 of 5 stars 3.47  ·  rating details  ·  5,480 ratings  ·  1,331 reviews
In this delightful, funny and moving first novel, a librarian and a young boy obsessed with reading take to the road.





Lucy Hull, a 26-year-old children's librarian in Hannibal, Missouri, finds herself both kidnapper and kidnapped when her favourite patron, 10-year-old Ian Drake, runs away from home. The precocious Ian is addicted to reading, but needs Lucy's help to smuggle
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Paperback, 324 pages
Published July 7th 2011 by William Heinemann (first published January 1st 2011)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Elaine Lincoln
Well I'll be honest: I joined Goodreads just so I could review this book. It is one of those ones that makes you want to grab strangers on the street and force them to read it while you watch their face to see their reaction. But more about that in a minute...

I do read reviews on Goodreads from time to time, usually after I finish a book (oddly), and two things were bothering me about the responses to this book, and I felt compelled to respond to them. It seems I had to join to do that! First, i
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Laura
Oh, where to start? I just couldn't buy into the premise no matter how much I really tried. When you have a book that essentially a two-hander, you need to like both characters - Lucy just irritated me too much for that to happen. Which is too bad because the book parodies and games are charming.

Lucy is the head children's librarian at a small public library in Missouri, reporting to an alcoholic director, living over a small theatre, and no real direction in life. One of the children that comes
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Jill
Let me say it straight out: this book isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea.

Those who cherry-pick the Bible – who ignore the parts that say “you can’t ever eat pork or shellfish, and women should cover their heads, and you can’t plant two crops in the same field”, yet laser in on two little verses that may or may not imply that God doesn’t like gays – will likely be offended.

Certainly, the existence of those who believe not in absolute rights but in their particular absolute right offends the
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Julie Ekkers
What a delightful book! It concerns a sort of listless librarian and her friendship--and sudden adventure--with a 10-year-old boy, who might be gay, to the horror of his very Christian parents. There are references to all kinds of children's books which all readers who were bookworms as children will have fun recognizing and remembering. What I loved most about this book is the manner in which it pays homage to those formative reading experiences, and acknowledges that for many of us, books cont ...more
Robin
Reading The Borrower is like having a long sit-down with an old friend, full of asides and references you're supposed to know. It's great!

I could pick this book apart, if I wanted to: Lucy is not a believable character: She's super-smart, but has no career plans, gorgeous, but doesn't date or have friends, "falls into" a job that requires an advanced degree she doesn't have, and allows herself to be led into a criminal act by a ten year old boy.

BUT

It is a fantastically enjoyable read. Makkai giv
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switterbug (Betsey)
Debut novelist and elementary schoolteacher Rebecca Makkai combines a wily, madcap road trip with socially poignant conundrums and multiple themes in this coming-of-age story about a twenty-six-year-old children's librarian, Lucy Hull, and a ten-year-old precocious book lover, Ian Drake, in fictional Hanibal, Missouri. (Guess who is coming-of-age? Answer: not so evident.)

Lucy isn't entirely sure that she's a reliable narrator--part of our reading pleasure is to figure that out. She tells us in t
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Kristin
But books, on the other hand: I do still believe that books can save you. ...and because I knew the people books had saved. They were college professors and actors and scientists and poets. They got to college and sat on dorm floors drinking coffee, amazed they'd finally found their soul mates. They always dressed a little out of season. Their names were enshrined on the pink cards in the pockets of all the forgotten hardbacks in every library basement in America. If the librarians were lazy eno ...more
Elaine
This started out wonderfully. I was immediately drawn the liberal librarian and the winsome boy whom she sneaks books to, books his parents obect to, but which are children's classics. The librarian's rationale is that the boy wants to read those books and she is not a censor. The ethical and moral issues here are never worked out. Do parents have the right to judge what books are suitable for their children? Do parents have the right to decide what religious beliefs their children should hold? ...more
Darby Zimmerman
This book will have its detractors, and I imagine that most of them will have missed the sort of tongue-in-cheek, this-didn't-really-happen aspect of the book. (Once the narrator tells you that you're supposed to call the town Hannibal, Missouri but that it's not really Hannibal, Missouri, and then confesses twenty pages in that she's already lied to you, I think all protestations of a story being unrealistic are null and void.) Lucy is an unreliable narrator -- my favorite kind -- and she takes ...more
Joanne
Oh how I wanted to love this book! It has so many things that I adore: libraries, quirkiness, a book reference on almost every page, a journey, a possibly-gay 10 year-old boy, various unrequited loves...

The book turned out to be grounded more in farce than in reality, which would have been ok except that the protagonist was so dull you couldn't really root for her, and in a farce, you need to have some attachment to the main character in order to swallow all the unrealistic situations and coinci
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Kim
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nick
Here's the first thing that people should understand about The Borrower: it's not realistic. Here's the second: that doesn't matter. Allow yourself to go with it for a moment before condemning Lucy for driving away from Hannibal, Missouri with Ian Drake, or doubting that she would do it in the first place. I just don't feel that author Rebecca Makkai was expecting us to believe that any 26 year-old librarian would go on a week-long secret road trip with a 10 year-old child, even one whose parent ...more
Caren
I wanted to read this book because the blurb said it was about a children's librarian. Well, that wasn't exactly true. The protagonist is a twenty-something college grad who happens to work in the children's section of a small town library, but she has not actually had any professional training (no masters degree, in other words).I couldn't see that she had had any prior experience of any kind with children, so one wonders how she landed this job. (There must have been a dearth of applicants and ...more
Paula Lyle
A librarian and a boy on the run. When I read the reviews on this book, they all seemed to imply a lighthearted caper, which confused me as it also seemed to be about a librarian who kidnaps a child. Now having finished it, I didn't find the book to be very light-hearted and it's not about a kidnapping. You can quibble about whether or not the story is realistic, but the deeper truth is one that anyone who works with children (I teach second grade) can identify with.

There are children that you w
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Kathrina
I finished this book almost two weeks ago, but I've struggled in how to write this review. This book was a personal treasure to me, and writing my thoughts on it feel almost too intimate, too vulnerable, to bare to the world. And that's strange to me, because this is not high literature, no one will be studying this in a classroom, and it likely will never be a bestseller, but it spoke to me, or maybe echoed to me, all the things I try to say about what drives me and what I want to do with my li ...more
Cody
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Kassel
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Holly
We need more books with children's librarians as the main character! What a great concept. And the ending was perfect. I loved that I was reading this during a long car ride with lots of hotel stops (from Indiana to South Dakota), because the librarian is on a long car ride too, without knowing her destination or when the trip will be over. The other main character in the story, 10-year-old Ian, is great too--I can picture him perfectly: smart as a whip and funny and charming in many ways, but e ...more
Amy
Lucy is a children's librarian in a small town in Missouri. She grows attached to a 10 year old patron named Ian, who is addicted to reading but has to sneak books past his evangelical parents. She learns that his parents have enrolled him in weekly anti-gay classes to combat his emerging flamboyance, so besides just helping him smuggle books past his parents, she is determined to communicate to him that some aspects of who we are aren't choices and can't be changed. Her involvement with Ian esc ...more
Christian
I found it really hard to connect to the characters in this book. Which was very disappointing. When I initially read the description for the book I was very moved by the idea of having a heartwarming story about a person trying to protect a young gay boy from his religious family and finding herself inadvertently kidnapping him. However, all the characters in the book were really 2-dimensional (and quite frankly annoying) and I found it impossible to to side with any of them. Ian, the little bo ...more
Vicki
Lucy Hull is a children's librarian, more or less by accident. She is the daughter of a Russian immigrant whom she suspects is a member of the Russian "mafia" in Chicago. The family has always had plenty of money, but her dad is kind of vague about where it comes from. As Lucy recalls how she got the job, she remembers that she was soon to graduate magna cum laude, but had given no thought to what she would do afterwards. Perplexed, the Career Counselor gives her a printout of the English Depart ...more
Felice
If you would like to read THE book about a librarian you need to read The Giant's House by Elizabeth McCracken. It is a moving, funny, sarcastic, glorious novel about a 1950's small town New England librarian who falls in love with an eleven year old boy who keeps growing and growing and growing. Theirs is a singular relationship to say the least. I am crazy about this novel. It is a wondrous story skillfully told by a talented writer. A gem.

Now there is a new librarian novel in town called The
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Catherine
I'm still trying to sort out exactly how I feel about this book, but I think I can safely say that it's amazing.

Lucy is a 26-year-old coasting through life -- her job as a children's librarian is the result of an alumni connection and her only friend is another library employee who is apparently in love with her. Her only goal in life is to not be like her father, a Russian immigrant with obvious underworld ties. She's likable and relatable, although I wanted to shake her many times, sometimes
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Sarah
As a youth serving librarian myself, the first part of this story, following Lucy's life as a Children's Librarian ring alternately uncomfortably true and annoyingly, inaccurately stereotypical. However, it was refreshing to see someone document the often overlooked relationship between librarians and the youth for whom they're often the most reliable and caring adult. Whether working in an urban setting, or a small town like Lucy, all of us have had an Ian Drake, the 10year-old protagonist in t ...more
Maurinejt
Okay, the very beginning of the acknowledgements goes like this: "Although I've had to demolish my childhood fantasy that Penguin books is somehow run by Mr. Popper's Penguins..." Of course!!! What follows is both a brilliant homage to the whole of children's literature and a daring voyage of self discovery for both a librarian and an eleven year old boy when she abducts him to save the boy from his evangelical parents who are carting him to a workshop every week to turn him straight because the ...more
Amy
As a librarian I find it nearly impossible to pass up on a book that is about books and the love of reading, and to find on that actually features a librarian in the lead role, well that is the perfect read for me! The Borrower, Rebecca Makkai’s debut novel sounds a bit outrageous, but it is actually a very heartfelt, delightful novel. Lucy Hull is a young children’s librarian working in a small library in Missouri. Although she did not intend to become a librarian, she enjoys her work and has f ...more
Alex Templeton
3.5 stars, really. I was immediately taken by Makkai's narrator: a mid twenty-something who works as a children's librarian at a small Midwestern library. As a book geek and especially a children's book geek, I adored all of the references to famous works of children's literature that peppered the book. I expected great things from the premise: Lucy (the librarian) discovers that one of her favorite charges, Ian, has run away from home and is camping in the library. Ian's parents have recently b ...more
Pamela
A novel for anyone who grew up as an eager reader, passionate about Roald Dahl and A Wrinkle in Time and The Wizard of Oz series. And also for those who just want a smart, witty, humane adventure that ingeniously knits together a librarian, a ten-year-old boy fleeing parents who have enrolled him in anti-homosexuality classes (they suspect he may have "tendencies"), Russian criminals and emigres, and a wild cross-country road trip with delicious echoes of Nabokov's Lolita. Makkai writes in a num ...more
Evanston Public  Library
When the word "borrower" is used in conjunction with a story set at a public library, one would expect it to refer to a patron who checks out books. In this refreshing first novel, that is most certainly not the case. When the adventure begins, it's not clear that "borrower" refers to books at all. Did Lucy Hull, children's librarian in Hannibal, Missouri borrow (i.e., kidnap) 10-year old Ian Drake, a regular who connives with Lucy to get books his mom won't allow him to read; or did Ian camp ou ...more
Anne Tommaso
This is a story for readers who love books, libraries, and finding joy in unexpected or peripheral places. It instantly went to the top of my list to read. There were many moments I enjoyed and where I found greater depth than the descriptions and words on the page. The story provides many opportunities for literary allusions and wittiness. Makkai uses many of these...but not all. I so appreciate what she's established in terms of character, plot, and questions, but overall (and I say this with ...more
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"Rebecca Makkai is the author of the novel The Borrower (Viking, 2011), and her short stories have appeared in four consecutive issues of The Best American Short Stories (2008-2011). Her second novel, The Hundred Year House, will appear from Viking in July, 2014. She lives in Chicago and Vermont."
More about Rebecca Makkai...
The Hundred-Year House Music for Wartime: Stories The Best American Short Stories 2011 The Best American Short Stories 2010 (The Best American Series (R)) The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2009

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“I believed that books might save him because I knew they had so far, and because I knew the people books had saved. They were college professors and actors and scientists and poets. They got to college and sat on dorm floors drinking coffee, amazed they'd finally found their soul mates. They always dressed a little out of season. Their names were enshrined on the pink cards in the pockets of all the forgotten hardbacks in every library basement in America. If the librarians were lazy enough or nostalgic enough or smart enough, those names would stay there forever.” 23 likes
“I might be the villain of this story.” 20 likes
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