Homeless at 12; a poignant read for mature teens.
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What parents need to know

Positive messages

Though the main character encounters many bad role models, she makes key connections that end up saving her life. Her resiliency is inspiring. Her teacher who gave her the journal is a constant reminder of hope.


Main character is hit by a man who picked up girl and mother hitchhiking, attacked by homeless man causing fear for her life, hunted down by another homeless man for stealing his items, locked in laundry room without food or bathroom by foster parents, and had face flushed in toilet twice. Some sexual abuse by foster fathers.


Man walks in on girl going to the bathroom.

Not applicable

A few name brands including Hefty bags and Sani-flush

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Mother was a heroin addict. She describes her shooting up and constantly searching for drugs by saying, "looking for a doctor." Mother dies from drug overdose.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this book covers poignant topics: death, homelessness, fear, and abuse. There are descriptions of the narrator's drug-addicted mother, who eventually dies from an overdose; abuse in foster care; and fear of starvation, freezing to death, and physical harm. Some passages may be hard for tender-hearted adolescents to read. But with the guidance of an adult, this is a suspenseful story that mature teens won't soon forget.

What's the story?

Through journal entries, 12-year-old Holly describes life in foster care and then as a homeless runaway. On her own she constantly searches for food, warmth, and shelter. She stows away on buses, trains, and trucks while she makes her way West. She eventually arrives in Los Angeles to find herself in East L.A., fearful of her life. Finally reaching the beach, she's made her goal. But moving north up the coast, she befriends few and finds life in the community of the homeless not very welcoming. Until she makes one life-changing connection.

Is it any good?


For mature teens with an interest in social consciousness or the trials of other adolescents, RUNAWAY is a sure hit. Holly chronicles her homeless experience, vividly and at times angrily, in a journal given to her a former teacher. Though she seems much older than a typical 12-year-old and her poetry borders on cliché, her dialogue is believable given the extreme circumstances that she faces.

Author Wendelin Van Draanen, a former teacher, clearly knows kids this age well and actually spent time sleeping outdoors, stowing away in a bus, and exploring a shelter to have a taste of the homeless experience -- her research is evident in the book's careful details. Runaway unfortunately suffers from an unrealistic ending, but it's appropriate for teen readers while instilling social consciousness about those less fortunate in the world.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about homelessness. How can kids and families help others in similar situations? Why is Holly afraid of social services, and what went wrong with the "system"? Was it OK for her to shoplift necessities for survival? Parents can also talk about what the journal has provided for Holly. Parents can point out that it was another adolescent who helped her in the end and the important role peers can play in each other's lives.

Book details

Author:Wendelin Van Draanen
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Alfred A. Knopf
Publication date:September 12, 2006
Number of pages:256
Publisher's recommended age(s):10 - 14

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  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Teen, 13 years old Written byolga March 22, 2009

i loved it!!

it was a while since i read it but i want to do a report about it and its due tommorrow!!! so help me !! what are the main charactors?
Kid, 11 years old February 12, 2009

3 words: Best. Book. Ever.

This is, in my opinion, the greatest book ever written for teens. It is a story about an abused girl who used to be homeless, living on the streets with her drug-addict mother. When her mother dies, the girl goes into child foster care with two abusive families before she decides she can't take it anymore and runs away when the story starts. She is living on the streets again, and she goes through many scary, heart-wrenching adventures and mishaps before she finally finds a permanent home. This is a beautiful moving story that grabs you after the first page and doesn't let you go until the end. It is well-written and highly addictive, even more so because it is the diary of an 11-year-old girl (like me!) You are practically there with the character as she goes through these experiences. The flashback scenes to when her mom was till alive were the best parts, but also the hardest to read. The only downside was, as common sense mentioned, the story has an unrealistic ending. Also, parents may not be ok with the violence and drug abuse by Holly's mother and boyfriend in the flashbacks, so I reccomend parents read these ahead of time with anyone under 9. Great read for kids 10+ who can handle a mature story Note: Lexalolu must read
Kid, 9 years old June 7, 2009


this book is so great for kids 11+ i think. it was so good! i couldnt put it down, and was telling my mom the whole story! haha! but one thing i don't understand of the common sense review... how does it have any sex in it?


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