Review Blog

Oct 19 2010

Noah Barleywater runs away by John Boyne

cover image

David Fickling Books, 2010.
(Ages 10+) Noah Barleywater leaves home early one morning to embark on an adventure involving a magical toyshop, an elderly puppet maker, a talking dachshund and a permanently hungry donkey.  Readers will find themselves swiftly immersed in Boyne's fanciful imaginative world.
The story unfolds gently as we slowly gather the clues for Noah's hasty departure from his beloved parents. The elderly toyshop owner regales Noah with stories of his own past and through these parables Noah begins to realise that he must return home and face up to the tragedy awaiting him, the death of his terminally ill mother. It is only towards the end of the story that the old man is revealed as that famous wooden puppet who longed to become a boy.
Boyne's plot is cleverly constructed and the imaginative devices are in place to draw readers into the story. However, I feel this is a story that does not entirely work. For a start it's difficult to decide who John Boyne is writing for. Some of the Disney-esque features - clocks that talk and moving floorboards will appeal to younger readers. However other themes are far more grown up, particularly the regret experienced by the elderly Pinocchio for missed opportunities and past mistakes, emotions that youngsters are unlikely to relate to.
The title page describes this as a fairytale and it is certainly original and imaginative. However, I believe it is a fairytale for grown ups, those who want the bittersweet luxury of reflecting on their own sorrows and regrets and those who are trying to come to terms with their own frailties.
Noah Barleywater runs away could become a book that adults will rave about, but I'm not convinced children will.
Claire Larson

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