Author: Keith Donohue
Year of publication: 2007
your brain on books rating: 4
In 1949 a seven-year-old boy ran away from home, and a group of changelings watching from the nearby forest made sure that he didn’t find his way back. One of the changelings assumed young Henry Day’s identity, while the human boy was transformed into a changeling and given the name Aniday. Thirty years later, Henry Day and Aniday finally tell the story of how their lives unfolded since their switch, and how they struggled to come to terms with who – and what – they were and had become.
The Stolen Child is an interesting character study that delves deep into the emotions of its two protagonists, examining their pain resulting from the crimes they have suffered, and, in the changeling Henry Day’s case, the guilt from committing the same crime against another innocent in order to return to some semblance of the life that had been taken from him nearly a century before. Donohue’s choice to have both protagonists recount their stories thirty years after they initially switched places is important to the overall tone of the work; because Henry Day and Aniday are both grown at this point in time, the novel takes on a mature, literary quality that would not have been possible if the beginning of Aniday’s narration came directly from his seven-year-old self. Readers will quickly trust their narrators, as Henry Day and Aniday’s experiences are told in hindsight after plenty of time for reflection.
Still, the devil wants an advocate, and though Donohue’s decision to age the characters before beginning the novel makes both halves of the narration more cohesive, some readers might rather have experienced Aniday’s maturation first-hand as he comes to grips with the new life that has been forced upon him. But, alas, that’s a book we don’t have, and the present work can easily stand on its own as is.
The novel’s structure greatly facilitates readers’ continued interest in the protagonists’ experiences. With each new chapter, the narration’s point of view switches from that of Henry Day to that of Aniday and back again. Considering the fact that clear crimes were committed in the past to get the protagonists to where they are today, these switching viewpoints make it difficult for readers to decide whose side they’re supposed to be on, forcing them to question whether they should be taking sides at all. This type of structure also keeps the story moving where the plot intensity is otherwise lacking; readers can’t tire with one protagonist because they never spend too long with him at once, and so the anticipation of the start of each chapter results in an inescapable excitement that propels the story forward.
By the novel’s conclusion, readers will feel extraordinarily close to both Henry Day and Aniday because not only will they know the protagonists’ fears and regrets, they will also know their small moments of triumph. Donohue succeeds in engaging his readers with a tale of identity theft in its most legendary form.