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The Borrower: A Novel Hardcover – June 9, 2011

102 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Makkai shows promise in her overworked debut, an occasionally funny crime farce about a hapless librarian–cum–accidental kidnapper. Lucy Hull is a 26-year-old whose rebellion against her wealthy Russian mafia parents has taken the form of her accepting a children's librarian job in smalltown Missouri. After an unnecessarily long-winded first act, the novel picks up when Lucy discovers her favorite library regular, 10-year-old Ian Drake, hiding out in the stacks one morning after having run away from his evangelical Christian parents, who censor his book choices and are pre-emptively sending him to SSAD (Same-Sex Attraction Disorder) rehab, and Lucy soon aids and abets his escape. The tale of their subsequent jaunt across several state lines dodging cops, a persistent suitor of Lucy's, and a suspicious black-haired pursuer is fast-paced, suspenseful, and thoroughly enjoyable—the real meat of the book. Unfortunately, the padding around the adventure too often feels like preaching to the choir (censorship is bad, libraries and independent booksellers are good) and the frequent references to children's books—including a "choose-your-own adventure" interlude—quickly go from cute to irritating. There's great potential, but it's buried in unfortunate fluff. (June)


"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 of That Old Cape Magic and Empire F

“An appealing, nonromantic love story about an unexpected pairing—and a surprisingly moving one.” — The New York Times

“This comical and touching book strikes a nice balance between literary artistry and gripping storytelling, and offers a contemporary take on the classic “journey of discovery.”…Right up to the book’s satisfying and well-plotted ending, Makkai shows us that even though the stories we are told as children are often fount to betray us as mere fantasy, there might still be some wisdom in the one of their most common and simple morals: Be true to yourself.” — The Daily Beast, Selected as one of "3 Must Read Novels"

“Rebecca Makkai’s The Borrower is full of books, libraries, cross-country hijinks, accidental parenting, love gone wrong and friendships gone right. Makkai will have you cheering for her librarian heroine, who has all the history and darkness of a Russian novel in her veins, mixed with the humor and spirit of Bridget Jones. A fun, moving, and delightful read.” — Hannah Tinti, author of The Good Thief

“In the hilariously off-kilter world Makkai creates, it makes perfect sense that 26-year-old children’s librarian Lucy Hull and her favorite reading-obsessed patron, 10-year-old Ian Drake, should ‘kidnap’ each other and take a loopy road trip. Clever riffs on classic kid lit pepper the sparkling prose, making this first novel a captivating read.” — Parade Magazine

“How could any reader of any age resist Rebecca Makkai’s charming The Borrower, a novel that tracks the relationship between a 20-something librarian and a 10-year-old boy with punitive parents. Part caper (the two take off on a road trip that has moments of danger but never turns dark), part coming-of-age (and not just for the kid!) story, it manages, with good humor and wry self-knowledge, to read our minds.” — O, Oprah Magazine

“A lively, lovely read that delicately weaves together social activism, literary culture and the quintessential road trip motif into a single solid adventure tale…Reading The Borrower is like taking a blissfully nostalgic journey into the bookshelves of American childhood.”— —

“A wise and likable tale about the difficulty of protecting a precocious imagination.” — The Wall Street Journal

“Poignant...every conflicted word Lucy utters in Makkai’s probing novel reminds us that literature matters because it helps us discover ourselves while exploring the worlds of others.” — The Chicago Tribune

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; 1 edition (June 9, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670022810
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670022816
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (102 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #487,002 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Rebecca Makkai is the author of the story collection MUSIC FOR WARTIME (2015) as well as the novels THE HUNDRED-YEAR HOUSE (2014) and THE BORROWER (2011). Her work was chosen for The Best American Short Stories in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 and appears regularly in publications such as Harper's, Tin House, Ploughshares, New England Review and Ecotone, and on public radio's This American Life and Selected Shorts. The recipient of a 2014 NEA Fellowship, Rebecca will be teaching this year at Northwestern University and the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her website is

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 38 people found the following review helpful By TChris TOP 500 REVIEWER on June 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The premise of Rebecca Makkai's entertaining first novel is farfetched. Librarian Lucy Hull takes an unintended road trip with ten-year-old Ian Drake, son of fundamentalist parents who have enrolled Ian in classes held by the notorious Pastor Bob, a "formerly" gay man who conducts classes designed to turn gay kids straight. To Lucy's dismay, Ian's mother seems intent on saving him from the evil world of children's literature. The road trip, taken without the knowledge or consent of Ian's parents, brings Lucy and Ian into contact with the man Lucy is dating (a musician whose most recent composition resembles the Mr. Clean jingle) and her father, a Russian immigrant with a hidden past and shady ties to organized crime who is nonetheless a decent fellow -- at least when it comes to Lucy. If the road trip happened in the real world, reporters would be asking Lucy "What were you thinking?" as she's hauled off to prison. It's never quite clear, even to Lucy, what she's thinking, but the unlikely set-up makes it possible for Makkai to tell a funny story. Makkai somehow manages to make it seem real, or perhaps the story has sufficient charm to encourage the reader's suspension of disbelief.

As much as I enjoyed the story, I was left with a "Is that all there is?" feeling at the novel's end, which seems too neat and painless given the improbable events that precede it. As I finished reading I was wondering what point Makkai intended to make. Of course, not all novels need to have a point; it's often enough to tell a good story while introducing the reader to believable characters. Yet The Borrower seems determined to deliver a message. In that task, the novel fails -- or, at least, I failed to find a coherent message.
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36 of 44 people found the following review helpful By phmmd on June 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is one of those books that really sticks with you. If you are a voracious reader, as I am, or if you have young children, as I do, you will catch (and be able to place) many of the literary references that the author includes in the book. Those make the book more interesting, but catching them is certainly not required to appreciate the novel's meaning or, certainly, to enjoy it. They just, in my opinion, make the ride more worthwhile.

References aside, this is a fabulous book. It's relentlessly engrossing, but it's not your typical summer "beach read". It's so much more than that. It's a book lover's book in the best possible way, and not just because of the literary references. It's one of the first books I've read in a long time that I literally haven't been able to put down. And now that I've finished it, I wish I had read it more slowly so that I could still be enjoying it.

A unique and very interesting plot, relatable and entertaining characters, and a plethora of "morals of the story". All spun together by someone who clearly has a way with words; Makkai is a fabulous storyteller, and I eagerly await her next work. Read this book now. You won't regret it.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Sarah on July 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The Borrower is a very enjoyable and thought-provoking read. It's the story of Lucy Hull, a children's librarian from Hannibal, Missouri, who befriends a 10-year-old patron named Ian. When Lucy finds out that Ian's parents are sending him to an evangelical camp that specializes in "correcting" homosexual tendencies in boys, she is horrified. Together, Lucy and Ian kidnap each other and head off on a cross-country adventure that causes Lucy to question her essential purpose and, ultimately, the choices she's made.

Makkai fills the book with all sorts of literary references, from Lolita and Crime & Punishment, to Goodnight Moon and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Fans of children's literature will be particularly delighted by the little gifts that Makkai includes throughout her prose. (My favorite: the nod to the Choose Your Own Adventure books - loved it!)

The Borrower was funny and moving and frustrating in equal parts. Ian was charmingly precocious, but Lucy was extraordinarily complex - what rational adult kidnaps a child and manages to convince herself that it's the right thing to do? And yet who can fault that same adult for trying to make a child feel loved for who he is? Makkai said that she wanted her protagonist to exist in a moral "grey area," and she clearly succeeded. The Borrower is a thoughtful and creative book that would be an excellent choice for any book club and a wonderful gift for fans of literary fiction.
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36 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Mary Ann VINE VOICE on June 11, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a delightful novel about the relationship between a librarian and one of her ten-year-old patrons. As is true of readers, appreciation of the same books builds bonds that transcend differences in age, circumstances, and time, besides breeding understanding that the non-reader will never grasp. This plot is fanciful and far-fetched, but engaging. It is not far-fetched in its emphasis on how books of fiction broaden and ease the challenges of reality. I read a review in a magazine prior to publication, and bought this book for my Kindle within two hours of its release. I had finished reading it in less than 24 hours, and enjoyed every word.
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