Stay Where You Are & Then Leave

Book review by
Joly Herman, Common Sense Media
Stay Where You Are & Then Leave Book Poster Image
Captivating tale of soldier's boy in World War I London.

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Historically accurate and compelling details of wartime London in the early 20th century will get readers interested in what a "white feather" meant to a "conchie" during World War I. Gone are the days of the horse-drawn milk wagon and the wash-woman, but this book attempts to bring these sights and sounds to life.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about loyalty and family bonds. And a powerful anti-war message is given in a way that kids can understand. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Alfie’s mum works two jobs to keep their home, while Alfie himself works to add money to her purse. A neighbor is a conscientious objector to the war, which means that his opinions and principals put him in harm’s way. Neighbors know each other and keep track of each other in a tight-knit manner.  Alfie takes great measures to help his mother without her knowing it. His work ethic is admirable, and so is his desire to rescue his loved ones.


Violence is rare but specific, and it serves to draw an anti-war message. Jarring images in a hospital will affect Alfie for the rest of his life. A family friend recalls being beaten by his father when he grew up. Neighbors are taken to refugee camps because they are suspected spies. Many veterans whom Alfie meets have injuries: missing legs, burns, shell shock.


A patient in a hospital makes a lewd remark about French women. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Almost every role model, from the Prime Minister down to the imprisoned neighbor, smokes cigarettes. Regarding cigarette and pipe smoking, Alfie remarks: “Whenever grown-ups wanted a good think, that’s what they did.” Clearly, prevalent smoking is a sign of a different time, but it's not crucial to the telling of the tale.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this story by John Boyne, author of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, takes place in London during World War I. Told through the eyes of a child whose father joins the fight early on, themes of loss, mental illness, wartime survival, and family tragedy are vividly spun in this historical tale. A graphic scene in a hospital could be difficult for sensitive readers to stomach, but the author's making a point about the repercussions of war, which form the moral backbone of this story.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bywhatsupmoms April 16, 2019


I think this book is wonderful!Telling us about all the things that would have happ.ened in world war 1 and all the tragedy
Parent Written byKate B. August 31, 2017
Kid, 10 years old February 12, 2018


This is a great book teaching about war. When Alfie was 5 his dad promised not to go to war but as he got older his dad Georgie had to go Alfie and his mother s... Continue reading
Kid, 10 years old February 11, 2015

Touching story

This is a touching and amazing story with a fairly realistic and historically accurate plot. It really shows you what life would be like at the time. The stori... Continue reading

What's the story?

Alfie Summerfield is exactly 5 years old when the World War I breaks out. His life in London seemed pretty normal up until then: His dad worked as a milkman, his mom took care of Alfie and the house. But when his father signs up for the army, everything changes. Alfie stops going to school regularly, his mom works days and nights, he doesn’t have much to eat, his closest friend is taken to an internment camp. As the war drags on, Alfie is certain he'll never see his dad again. Many men in their neighborhood have died in the war, after all. But then Alfie learns a secret that compels him to take action, and he's never the same again.

Is it any good?

STAY WHERE YOU ARE & THEN LEAVE is a successful historical novel because it's an engaging story. John Boyne, author of the book-turned-film The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, takes another look at wartime life as seen through the eyes of a boy. This time, the sights, smells, sounds of London in 1914 unwrap in a lovely fashion until war breaks out. Readers will be able relate to Alfie’s fear as his father gears up to be shipped overseas to dig trenches and fight in a war that everyone claims "will be over by Christmas." What’s not clear is how many Christmases it will take before the war ends, and the sense of dread and suffering is palpable, but not crushing, as Boyne tells it.

Kids will enjoy hearing the trains shudder and groan as they pull into the station and will worry about the wounded soldiers and struggling women. Though it draws the reader into a vivid world with plenty of dramatic tension, the novel wraps things up a little too neatly. Conflicts are magically resolved; points of view are switched for no apparent reason, and what was credible becomes a little unlikely. But, the anti-war message retains its power, and Boyne has proven that he can re-create history in a really captivating manner.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what it would be like to live in a country at war. How would it feel to not know if your loved ones will return? How has war changed since Alfie's time?

  • How does Stay Where You Are & Then Leave compare with other war stories you've read or seen in movies? 

  • What damage does a spy do? When is it an excuse to discriminate against a people? Why are the Janaceks considered spies?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love history

Themes & Topics

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