This book touched a chord with me. Although it takes place in World War I, I felt memories return to me at the same age as Alfie; mine from World War II. John Boyne is spot on with this story and has a fantastic ability to recreate this time period and the horrors that went with it, without losing sight of his youthful audience. This book is suggested for the 9 to 12 year range, but I believe it would be interesting to a wider range.
Alfie is an only child and has just had his fifth birthday as the story begins. This is his story, but also the story of all London where suddenly all the Dads are off to war, Mothers off to work and/or taking in work and children left alone. Alfie's best friend Kalena Janacek and her father have been sent away to the Isle of Wight to an internment camp, his Dad Georgie is at war and his Dad's best friend Joe as a conscientious objector, a conchie as they call him, is dragged off to jail and badly beaten. All life as he knew it is changed, and changed him with it.
Alfie decides he should do his part, too, so he takes Mr. Janacek's shoeshine kit and starts working at the train station, skipping school three days a week. This is a tale of survival, constant fear and worry, death, innovation and love of family. When letters no longer come from Georgie, Alfie's father, he believes the worst. His mother tries to ease his fears by telling him he can't write because he is on a secret mission but Alfie doesn't believe her.
Chance is a strange thing. While Alfie, now nine, is shining the shoes of a well-dressed man at the station, a wind happens to gust through the station and catch all the papers the man is holding. Alfie rushes to collect them all and chances to see his father listed as a patient at a hospital in England. From this point on the story veers as Alfie plots to see his father. This story is very well-written, compelling and compassionate, as much as a coming of age story. Alfie's complicated plans are admirable if ill-conceived. In a four year period, many things can change, and especially with children, who always seem to grow up too soon, but during war often become grown up through necessity as Alfie did. With love, though, anything is possible.