Noah Barleywater Runs Away by John Boyne
Eight-year old Noah Barleywater leaves home early one morning, trying to convince himself he’s off to see the world and have adventures. The real reason is something he’d rather not think about.
When he reaches the first village he happens upon an apple tree with human qualities. At the second village, he meets all sorts of strange and unfriendly characters; all the while memories of his mother keep invading his thoughts. Before reaching the third village, Boyne foreshadows that the path Noah has been on is about to veer in an uncertain direction.
In the third village, Noah can’t make sense of a curiously constructed building, an enormous tree out front or a talking dachshund and donkey. The odd building is a toy shop unlike any Noah has ever visited in his life – all the toys are new and different and made entirely of wood and painted with colors he’s never seen before. And lining the walls of the shop are hundreds of lifelike puppets.
Noah meets an enigmatic old man, a toymaker. He doesn’t know quite what to make of his fanciful shop where his friends include a clock that makes funny noises, a staircase that winds around in circles, floorboards that shift when you walk on them and a door that appears only when you need to open it.
During the course of their day together, the old man tells Noah stories about his past through puppets endowed with human characteristics who helped shape him into the man he’s become. Noah can relate to the stories since they begin with a time when the old man was eight years old. The toymaker tells Noah of the trouble he got into, his triumphs, and equally, his regrets.
Somewhat analogous to the way the toymaker whittles the wood away to make a puppet, he eventually peels back enough of Noah’s frightened exterior to get the boy to trust him and to be more forthcoming about why he left home.
The journey Noah embarks on early that morning turns out, by the end of the day, to have been one of self- discovery. It’s a day of strange occurrences and valuable lessons, among them the importance of the choices we make and having to live with their consequences and of facing our fears head on.
Noah is a sympathetic character who’s thrust into a situation not of his own making and does the only thing he can think of. He flees. The book is a coming-of-age tale in a way. Noah’s forced to confront a reality that he would just as soon run from, but the memories are too poignant. Running doesn’t prevent them resurfacing from his subconscious. In the process of facing up to his fears, Noah loses a bit of his innocence but the lessons he learns along the way make him a stronger person.
As in his earlier book, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Irish author Boyne treats his subject with finesse. Noah’s mother’s life-threatening illness is alluded to, and when it’s finally overtly addressed, it’s done with a goodly amount of tenderness. The denouement is sanitized. We are left with a picture of a brave, resilient and even joyful little boy.
Photo courtesy of krismartis