What sounds like the setup to a joke of questionable humor transforms into a charming debut novel in Rebecca Makkai’s hands ... It may seem inappropriate to call a novel involving a kidnapping heartwarming, but that’s exactly what The Borrower manages to be. Even as Lucy and Ian make ostensibly poor choices, you can’t help but root for this unlikely duo. Makkai tackles difficult subject matter like sexuality and identity with warmth and humor, and deftly avoids veering into overly saccharine territory ... a wonderful celebration of books and friendship, brimming with literary references and plenty of laughs.
Rebecca Makkai tips her hat to a shelf-load of children's literature, offering sly echoes of everything from Charlotte's Web by E.B. White to Where's Spot? By Eric Hill, while crafting her own distinctive sound in a first novel definitely not for kids. Makkai avoids almost all the pitfalls of debut fiction, including sentimentality and undigested autobiography, and though her plotting isn't as deft as her characterizations, the wonderfully nuanced closing pages more than make up for the occasional longueurs that precede them ... The momentum sags a good deal along the way ... What holds our interest is Lucy's sardonic, self-doubting narrative voice, and her refreshingly astringent relationship with Ian ... 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.
I had a problem with this otherwise charming, witty book that never seemed to occur to the author. A mother’s child has been stolen, kidnapped. He’s missing; he may be dead. Doesn’t this horror transcend every other consideration in this story? Looked at more closely, is Lucy a bookish bachelorette or a creepy sociopath? A kid is more important than a book, no matter how nasty the child or how beautiful the book. But I don’t think that’s what the author is saying, sadly enough.
Literary call-outs abound in The Borrower. Huckleberry Finn is a guiding light. The Oz books are avidly recommended for any kid who feels as though his or her entire being is the equivalent of coloring outside the lines. Makkai also works in some jittery allusions to Nabokov’s Lolita as Lucy tries to figure out what the heck she thinks she’s doing, crossing state lines with a 10-year-old boy whose family must be frantic about him. Is she borrowing the boy because she’s lonely and confused? ... Charming, funny, original, thought-provoking, and moving, Rebecca Makkai’s The Borrower embraces outsiders and dissenters, and celebrates the power of our imagination and our empathy. This warmly entertaining, picaresque novel in praise of personal freedom and books leaves us marveling over literature’s magnificent paradox: that in fiction dwells profound truth.
A children’s librarian in Hannibal, Mo., finds herself on a long, strange trip in Makkai’s ruminative first novel ... Makkai takes several risks in her sharp, often witty text, replete with echoes of children’s classics from Goodnight Moon to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, as well as more ominous references to Lolita ... The novel bogs down for a long time in the middle with an excess of plot, but the moving final chapters affirm the power of books to change people’s lives even as they acknowledge the unbreakable bonds of home and family ... Smart, literate and refreshingly unsentimental.
Makkai shows promise in her overworked debut, an occasionally funny crime farce about a hapless librarian–cum–accidental kidnapper ... After an unnecessarily long-winded first act, the novel picks up when Lucy discovers her favorite library regular, 10-year-old Ian Drake ... The tale of their subsequent jaunt across several state lines...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.