Vicki's Reviews > The Borrower

The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai
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May 13, 12

Read on August 29, 2011

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 Department alumni and suggests that Lucy use those connections to land a job. She doesn't want to accept her father's offers of assistance, so she begins at the first of the alphabet, emailing each of the listed alumni. As it happens, Loraine Best, class of '65, needs a children's librarian replacement fast, and isn't quibbling over the Master of Library Science degree.

Lucy warmed quickly to the job and might have stayed on forever, but for one of her favorite patrons, Ian Drake. A 10 year old almost daily visitor to the library, he stood out because of his unique behavior and his precocious reading habits. Even Loraine, the Head Librarian, refers to him as "that little homosexual boy." Lucy becomes concerned when she meets Ian's mother, who comes into the Children's department with a list of forbidden topics and titles for Ian. Ms. Drake acknowledges that Ian loves the library, "but what he really needs right now are books with the breath of God in them."

When Ian gives Ms. Hull an origami baby Jesus at Christmas, she displays it on her desk for a week and then unfolds it to place in the shredder. At this point she realizes it is a printout of an email Ian's mom has written to a ministry dedicated to salvaging sexually confused children. Lucy is appalled. Though she realizes this was never meant for her eyes, she becomes very concerned about what damage could be done to this child in the name of religion. When Ian "runs away" the following March it is to the library, and Lucy discovers him when she opens up the next morning. She is sympathetic, but knows she must return him to his parents. At first he balks, but once in the car, Ian's detailed directions take them to a lovely home in a nice neighborhood. But just as Ian is preparing to get out, the homeowner steps out to get the paper and Lucy knows that is not Ian's dad. She drives on, still torn about where to go or what to do. Before she knows it they have driven out of town, following Ian's imaginative directions. She is not sure who is kidnapping whom (but she does know who is driving and how it will read in the police report)!

This is the story of their road trip, which Ian seems to thoroughly enjoy while Lucy experiences increasing angst, knowing this cannot possibly end well for her, yet wanting to protect Ian even more than she wants to save herself.

In spite of the serious ethical issues that rise in this story, the book contains lots of humor and tons of allusions to children's literature in every chapter, if not on every page. Lucy learns a lot about herself, her dad and her roots. Ms. Makkai is a clever story teller and peoples this tale with interesting and creatively drawn characters that are a pleasure to come to know.

I expect you'll enjoy the entire book, but the ending is creative and unexpected (by me, at least,) and will have you thinking about this story for quite awhile after you put the book down, I'm thinking.
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