The lovely Corie often loans me books I'm not familiar with by authors I've never heard of and every time they end up being really really good. This is the perfect book borrowing set-up, and The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue (2006) is no exception.
One day, seven-year-old Henry Day runs away from his home on the edge of the woods and hides in the hollow trunk of an old tree. Late that night he is found by a search party and brought home to his grateful parents, but after that day he is never the same again. That is because Henry Day isn't Henry Day anymore -- he has been replaced by a changeling.
The changeling who is now Henry Day was stolen from his German immigrant parents over a hundred years ago. Since then he had been living in the woods with a band of other stolen children -- stealing food and causing mischief in the town, sleeping in burrows and eating berries and roots in the forest, nearly hibernating in the winter, not aging a day on the outside, and waiting his turn to become the senior changeling and the next one to return to the world of humans. The real Henry Day, named Aniday by the changelings, now joins the band of children in the woods and begins forgetting his family and transforming into a fairy child.
The book alternates chapters between the new Henry Day and Aniday as both boy-men grow into their new lives. Each of them is obsessed with their real past: Henry dreams in snatches of German and has an instant musical virtuosity, especially on the piano (a talent the real Henry Day didn't possess). Aniday remembers glimpses of his mother and twin sisters, and one day, years after he was stolen, he accidentally wanders too close to a house at the edge of the woods at dawn, and comes face to face with his unremembered father. Neither of them are ever quite the same after that. Both Henry and Aniday fall in love and embrace their new lives, but neither can stop yearning for the unremembered past.
I wasn't sure about this book at first, since I'm not much of a fantasy fan (fairies? hobgoblins? No thank you.), but Donohue weaves the myth of the changeling into a strong modern-day novel about identity, family, and trust. His descriptions of the day-to-day lives and traditions of the changelings (both in the tribe and after returning to the human world) are imaginative and engrossing, and his characters are complex and nicely written. An excellent book all around -- thanks Corie!