Keith Donohue's sparkling debut novel was first presented by the publisher as a "bedtime story for adults." Intrigued by comparisons to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
and The Confessions of Max Tivoli
, we dipped into the book, only to find ourselves transported into a strange and wonderfully rich story--a perfect blend of literary fantasy and realism that kept us captivated until the very end. Find out what our top reviewers have to say about The Stolen Child
, and hear from Keith Donohue about about the origins of the story below. --The Editors
We queried our top 100 reviewers as of April 6, and asked them to read The Stolen Child and share their thoughts. We've included these early reviews below in the order they were received. For the sake of space, we've only included a brief excerpt of each reviewer's response, but each review is available for reading in its entirety by clicking the "Read the review" link. Enjoy!
| Early Buzz From Amazon.com Top Reviewers |
: "Keith Donohue writes a great novel that will have readers debating the impact of nurturing and naturing as both Henrys adapt and adjust, but never feel whole. This is a fantastic fantasy that readers will enjoy immensely." Read Harriet Klausner's review W. Boudville
: "An updated and realistic Peter Pan. Keith Donohue has produced an exquisite first novel. Exceedingly polished prose with a compelling and original twist on a classic theme." Read W. Boudville's review John Kwok
: "Inspired by the W. B. Yeats poem "The Stolen Child", Keith Donohue's novel of the same title is a fine addition to the fantasy literature genre, yet told with the ample realism one expects from great works of mainstream literature." Read John Kwok's review A. Joseph Haschka
: "The Stolen Child
is a fairy tale for adults that transcends standard fare. An ingeniously crafted tale about hobgoblins, is a coming of age story and one about identities both lost and found." Read A. Joseph Haschka's review Robert Morris
: "Donohue brilliantly explores all manner of themes, many of which are found in the most popular fairy tales and nursery rhymes (e.g. fear of separation from ones family, especially from parents). " Read Robert Morris's review Donald Mitchell
: "What would it like to be adopted and have your head full of fantasies? It might feel very much like this story. However, I think a story about an adopted child without the parallel changeling world would have been more interesting. Perhaps I lack a sense of romance and sympathy for the strivings of the dispossessed. If so, the fault is mine, not that of the story." Read Donald Mitchell's review Joanna Daneman
: "I found the writing stunningly simple and gripping. Within minutes, I was completely drawn into this book. I am a very finicky fiction reader, and I was delighted by Donohue's incredibly ability to make sensory experiences real, to make conversations flow naturally and logically--yet leading to surprise after surprise." Read Joanna Daneman's review Charles Ashbacher
: "The book moves back and forth between the two Henry's, how the substitute Henry handles his assimilation into human society and how the original adapts to the society that kidnapped him. It is an interesting story, as both "boys" have different perspectives on the life of a "growing" boy." Read Charles Ashbacher's review Lawyeraau
: "This haunting and beautifully written debut novel had me compulsively turning its pages. I simply could not put it down! The author has created a fantasy world that exists on the cusp of the consciousness of humans. It is a world that is the stuff of fairy tales, only the author has turned it into one that is fitting for adults." Read Lawyeraau's review Gail Cooke
: "It has been called magical, beguiling, remarkable, and vividly imagined. The Stolen Child
is all of that, and much more. Keith Donohue's debut novel is an intriguing mix of imagination and reality, a story that reminds us of the joys of being human and the transcendency of love." Read Gail Cooke's review Grady Harp
: "Longing to belong is but one of the essential facts of life that author Keith Donohoe weaves into his debut novel, The Stolen Child
, a stunning work of fiction that brings alive an ages old myth involving faeries, hobgoblins, changelings and magical transformations to confront contemporary readers with food for thought about being careful of what you wish for!" Read Grady Harp's review Lee Carlson
: "The story is as much a celebration of memory as it is in belaboring its mysteries. Every character acts in concert to remind the reader of the subtlety of memory along with its power." Read Lee Carlson's review Daniel Jolley
: "Keith Donohue has brought forth a magical debut novel full of insights into childhood and adulthood and the seemingly endless longing that largely defines both. He conjures a world of ancient legend and places it on the outskirts of modern civilization, thereby casting an insightful eye upon both." Read Daniel Jolley's review
An Autobiographical Note from Keith Donohue
My dad used to call me, the middle child of seven, "the youngest of the oldest, and the oldest of the youngest." Being dead smack in the middle of a large Irish American family, it is no wonder that I have felt like a changeling myself now and again. We were just like the Kennedys, without the money or the power.
We lived in a cramped yellow house at the bottom of a steep hill in Pittsburgh. Climbing that street as a small child was like hiking up a mountain, but it instilled a sense of ambition and determination. In the mid-Sixties, we moved to Southern Maryland, to a town so small that there was but a single commercial crossroads with a High's Dairy Store across from Ben Franklin's Five and Dime Store. There were still enough woods and swampland available to allow for hours of exploration and getting lost nearly every day.
On a whim, I went back to Pittsburgh for college and began to write in earnest at Duquesne University, studying under the Pennsylvania state laureate poet Sam Hazo, and putting myself through school through two creative writing scholarships. My dream was to be a novelist, but there weren't any openings.
Upon graduation, and being unable to find a job in the city, I moved back to the Washington area to work for the National Endowment for the Arts, answering the mail for the chairman of the agency. Within four years, I was writing speeches for a new and different chairman, a job I held for the eight years that coincided with what some have called the culture wars. I wrote for the freedom of expression crowd.
Off hours, I went back to school, earned a doctorate in English literature, specializing in modern Irish literature. After stints working on federal child care policy and as a cultural policy analyst, I circled round again to that steep hill and wrote The Stolen Child, figuring that if I was to become that novelist, the time had come to stop dreaming and simply climb.
I'm married, have four children, and am back working at a small embattled agency that gives grants to archives across the country to preserve and publish the records of the American experience. In my spare time, I'm writing another novel about myths in America.
The Story Behind the Story
The very first image that came to me when I began The Stolen Child was of a young boy hiding in a hollow tree, face pressed against its wooden ribs, determined not to be found by anyone. His defiant wish to be alone struck me as a universal gesture--a striking out for independence that children make when frustrated by the confines of childhood. When the changelings come and get that boy, he becomes a victim of his own imagination. He is stolen away by his own worst nightmare.
As concerned as I was about the boy hiding in the tree, I also knew that I wanted to write about an adult struggling to remember the dreams of childhood. He had to be as trapped and frustrated by the strictures of his adulthood. And in order for any drama to exist, these two emotional states must clash.
That's why there are two narrators telling two intertwined stories--one adult trying to remember his "stolen" childhood and one child trapped in time at age seven. Since the conflict is primarily between the grown-up Henry Day and the child Aniday, the story needed some way to make both characters alive, have parallel and mirroring lives, joys and challenges, and allow them to confront one another. I needed some way to make the metaphorical be literal.
That's where the changeling folk myth came in. Changelings and faeries have been around for eons in virtually every culture. They are the mysterious beings flitting around the corner of the imagination, and in many places, faeries and changelings have the reputation of breaking into homes and replacing babies and young children with replicas. Or luring children away from their homes to come live in the wild and become part of their unaging magical tribe. The child is stolen by the faeries, and the faery changeling "becomes" the child.
In reality, the legend grew from real human predicaments dealing primarily with the inability of some parents to care for children with a failure to thrive. They explained away the unwanted children by claiming that they were not human at all, that the changelings had come and stolen their child and left one of their own in its place. Having a changeling rather than a real human made it much easier for parents to get rid of such a child.
Through our wild imaginations and fear of the dark and unknown, the changeling myth evolved into a spooky story. Careful, kid, or the changelings will come get you. Or, conversely, as an explanation for why you're so different from all the rest of the kids; you're actually a changeling.
"The Stolen Child" by William Butler Yeats, is one of the more well-known literary uses of folk legend to comment on the real world. Reading the poem, we get caught up in those wonderful images of "hidden faery vats" and the faeries "whispering to the slumbering trout," but then Yeats gives us, in the final stanza, an idea of the family life that the stolen child is leaving behind. But away he goes, "from a world more full of weeping than he can understand."
How perfect for a story about what it's like to be seven and to remember being seven.
So I asked myself: What if we make the changelings real? What if we have the boy out in the woods with a band of faeries, the flip side of the real world? What if he is replaced by a changeling who can grow up and become the adult, who fools everyone into thinking that he is indeed the real Henry Day, when he knows all along that the authentic Henry is out there in the woods?
That's when the fun began. The two narrators' stories spiraling around and interlocking like a Celtic knot. The changeling who steals Henry Day's life gradually realizes that he, too, was a real human boy once upon a time. He, too, was a stolen child and must struggle to dredge up that childhood and deal with his dreams and his own weeping world. The real Henry Day--now known as Aniday among the faeries--faces what it means to be a part of a fading folk myth at the latter half of the 20th century, and the struggle that all children have coming to terms with their mortality, leaving family behind, and leaving childhood behind in order to find some speck of love, happiness, and the road ahead.
From Publishers Weekly
Folk legends of the changeling serve as a touchstone for Donohue's haunting debut, set vaguely in the American northeast, about the maturation of a young man troubled by questions of identity. At age seven, Henry Day is kidnapped by hobgoblins and replaced by a look-alike impostor. In alternating chapters, each Henry relates the tale of how he adjusts to his new situation. Human Henry learns to run with his hobgoblin pack, who never age but rarely seem more fey than a gang of runaway teens. Hobgoblin Henry develops his uncanny talent for mimicry into a music career and settles into an otherwise unremarkable human life. Neither Henry feels entirely comfortable with his existence, and the pathos of their losses influences all of their relationships and experiences. Inevitably, their struggles to retrieve their increasingly forgotten pasts put them on paths that intersect decades later. Donohue keeps the fantasy as understated as the emotions of his characters, while they work through their respective growing pains. The result is an impressive novel of outsiders whose feelings of alienation are more natural than supernatural. (May)
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