Fairies, alive and well in ’60s small-town America, replace a human boy with one of their own—and fabulous adventures ensue.
Seven-year-old Henry Day is hoping to run away from his family and his mundane miseries when he’s abducted by changelings and thrown into water in a kind of pagan baptism. Yeats celebrated these legendary, ageless woodland sprites, and Donohue updates their myth. “Ancients in wild children’s bodies,” the changelings re-name their captive Aniday and rear him to become a forest-stalker capable of resuscitating deer hit by the townsfolk’s heedless drivers. Meanwhile, another “boy” steals into Aniday’s old bed; a changeling the Day family believes is their own Henry who’d been lost in a forest. In alternating chapters, Aniday and Henry spin a tale that’s part metaphysical The Prince and the Pauper, part runic Trading Places. The former fairy, in elementary school, finds earthlings bizarre and uncouth; to him they are “nose-pickers, thumbsuckers, snorers, ne’er-do-wells.” The new “Henry Day” befriends his changeling hosts, but longs for books. As the boys age, each seeks identity, but is haunted by memory—Aniday, of his family and clean sheets, “Henry Day,” of a life richer than the one he’s living with his suburban hosts. Discovering in himself a prodigious talent as a pianist, he wonders about his previous existence. Something tells him that in the past he had been a genius musician. Graced with telling period touches—there are nods to The Jackie Gleason Show and the Kennedys—the novel resurrects an America that now seems as exotic as Middle Earth.
Take that, Bilbo Baggins! Donohue’s sparkling debut especially delights because, by surrounding his fantasy with real-world, humdrum detail, he makes magic believable.