What do you get when you pair a children’s librarian—whose father may be connected to the Russian mafia—with a curious 10-year-old boy whose dubious sexuality has caused his evangelical parents to enroll him in an anti-gay class and strictly monitor his library material? What sounds like the setup to a joke of questionable humor transforms into a charming debut novel in Rebecca Makkai’s hands.

Lucy Hull is a children’s librarian working in a small town in Missouri, struggling against the clichés of her job, determined to become something more than a spinster surrounded by cats. Although she had always dreamed of a slightly more glamorous life, Lucy can’t deny the thrill she gets in helping youngsters discover a love of reading. In particular, she is charmed by Ian Drake, a young boy with an appetite for books that nearly matches her own. It’s clear to Lucy that Ian is a special child in need of nurturing, so the two work together to circumvent his overbearing mother’s overly restrictive list of “acceptable materials.”

While reading everything from Roald Dahl to Greek mythology, the two forge a firm friendship, but everything is turned on its head when Lucy discovers that Ian has run away from home. Before she knows it, the two are out on the open road, and Lucy can now add “child abductor” to her resumé. With every mile, it becomes harder to justify turning back, so Lucy hits the gas and sees where the road ahead will take them.

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. 

The Borrower is a wonderful celebration of books and friendship, brimming with literary references and plenty of laughs. Bump it up your own library queue, because this is one book you won’t want to miss.

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