A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What 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.
Talk to your kids 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.