The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue

I remember thinking when this book came out a few years ago that it looked interesting and that I’d like to read it one day. It never managed to make it’s way to the top of my “to read” list, but luckily our Sci-Fi & Fantasy book club wanted to read it and I’m very glad we did. I read it in about two sittings on a recent trip to visit my family up in Massachusetts – the first half while flying up, and the second half while flying back. It’s quite different from many Fantasy novels in that there are no wizards, no heroes with legendary swords, no dragons, elves or quests. It also doesn’t take place in some far off world like Middle Earth or Narnia. Rather, the novel takes place in the middle of the Twentieth century in suburban America and explores the changeling myth.

With roots in cultures all across the world, the changeling myth is the belief that hob-goblins, faeries, sprites, etc. would steal a healthy baby or young child, and leave a damaged, deformed or changed version in its place. The myth came about to explain many infant and young childhood diseases and traumas. The parents would then feel justified in leaving their “changed” child (who they convinced themselves was really a goblin or faerie) in the woods for the fae to re-claim. Another reason this was done is that families would have too many mouths too feed and it was easiest to get rid of the youngest child before bonding happened. Just take a look at the original story of Hansel & Gretel.

In this novel, six year old Henry Day doesn’t want to watch his twin baby sisters while his mom takes a bath, so he runs into the woods and is then “changed” for a faerie-child who looks and sounds just like the real Henry. The faeries have studied Henry and his family so that the new Henry will be able to fool his parents and take over his life. Meanwhile, the orginal Henry is re-named Aniday by his new family of other faerie-children who live together in the woods. A ritual is performed so that Aniday starts to forget his past and gains the magical abilities of these woods-dwelling children, such as swiftness in travel, the ability to see and hear a long distance, and to change one’s features.  He has a tough time adjusting to his new society and no one will speak of the one who took his place or his former family.

Meanwhile, the new Henry Day is an almost exact copy of the original except that he is better behaved, more attentive to his mother and baby sisters, and is a musical prodigy on the piano. Henry also struggles to fit into his new life and keeps having brief flashbacks of another life with a German family and taking piano lessons.  As he grows up – something he has to physically will himself to do, since he’s been a child for the last hundred years or so – he realizes how different life is for a twentieth century boy. Henry’s father has been increasingly distant, and even suspicious, ever since the change – and the two grow further apart. The chapters alternate between Henry and Aniday through the years until the finally come together to share the same events at the end of a captivating and thoughtful story. I should note that about half of our book club members did not care for the book, while the rest of us did enjoy it – but those situations often make for great discussions.

Find and reserve this highly discussable book in our catalog.

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One Response to “The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue”

  1. Jean Says:

    I read this book with my “regular” book club, Dan, and loved it. When it comes to science fiction and fantasy, I only like these “soft” reads (another would be Brin’s “The Postman”) in those genres. I think that’s probably typical of the non traditional scifi/fantasy reader, and explains why the real genre readers in your book club didn’t like it.

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