Wendelin Van Draanen - Runaway

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Runaway Summary

Nov 18, 2011
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Rated a Flagged Review

Pros:The book covers some heavy subjects, violence, abuse and drugs

Cons:This book is great and bad but altogether awesome and I think you agree.

The Bottom Line:

Her emotions come off as very strong. She is naive and pigheaded at the same time.

We follow Holly through her struggles, victories and worst nightmares as she heads toward thePacific Oceanand does whatever it takes to stay alive and free from her biggest fear --- Social Services. No stranger to the streets, Holly sleeps out in the cold, steals food and supplies, hides in the hot, dark cargo hold of a cross-country bus, and lies to everyone but her journal. She enjoys reading (and eventually writing), loves dogs and plans to become a vet someday by learning math and science with stolen textbooks (though she feels guilty about stealing anything but food), and somehow manages to hold herself and her dreams together in the face of constant and life-threatening dangers.
When Holly's teacher, Mrs. Leone, gives her a blank journal, Holly is disgusted. Writing in a journal can't make her forget that she's a 12-year-old orphan and that her mother died of a heroin overdose, or that the foster parents she's living with abuse her, locking her in the laundry room for days and sticking her head in the toilet when she tries to defend herself. Mrs. Leone could never understand Holly and, in Holly's opinion, probably doesn't care to. No one knows what she faces each day because she tells no one. But when boredom threatens to drive her crazy one night in the laundry room, Holly starts to write. And despite her scorn at the mere idea of keeping a journal, she continues writing.
When Holly can no longer take the abuse, she runs away. Unlike her previous attempts, this time she succeeds, making it out of town and heading west. She takes only the essentials...and her journal, filling long hours of fear and boredom by updating Mrs. Leone, despite the fact that her teacher will never see her or the journal again.
 Holly's entire life was filled with conflict and tragedy.  After her dad died, Holly and her mom moved from one ratty apartment to another.  When Holly's mom got fired for stealing from her workplace, they soon became homeless.  Holly never really cared about that.  Even the old van was home as long as her mother was there with her arms wrapped tightly around her.  That was before her mom met Eddie. Holly's mom started staying out late  - often leaving Holly alone all night in the van.  She also started acting funny, and her eyes were always shiny.  Holly soon learned that she would have to take care of herself to survive.  Not long after meeting Eddie, Holly's mom died from a drug overdose in her arms.  Now Holly truly was all alone. Don't be fooled into thinking Holly's life would become better after her mom was gone.  At least her mom loved her - though she loved heroin more than she ever loved Holly.  Holly is bounced from one foster home to another.  She doesn't want to trust another adult.  She feels like she can't let her guard down again. Holly reaches her breaking point when she is sent to live with The Benders.  Her foster father wants to be "closer" to Holly.  Holly can tell by the way he stares at her that his thoughts aren't fatherly.  Her foster mother steals money from her husband, and then blames it on Holly.  Holly spends her nights cold, alone, and hungry - locked in a dark, damp, dirty laundry room with only a journal to keep her company.  At first Holly is angry that her teacher was forcing her to write in a stupid journal.  Soon, however, Holly finds comfort in the journal pages as she begins telling her story.  The story will haunt you.  The pain Holly feels is achingly evident, and you will find yourself wondering how she continues to survive. Holly decides to run away - this time for good.  Life on the streets cannot be any worse than the abusive home she lives in now… All the pain she's been through… nothing can shock her.  Life alone has to be better than this. Unfortunately for Holly, she's wrong.  Things can get much worse.  Reading this book may make the problems you have in your life seem very small in comparison to Holly's.  Despite the sadness the reader feels while reading about Holly's experiences, the ending will bring you comfort.  Holly will at last find peace and happiness.  
Over the course of her journey she also learns to face her past through her writing and discovers a true knack for poetry, much to her surprise. What started as a way to fend off boredom by writing angry and sarcastic notes to Mrs. Leone slowly becomes a tool for self-discovery, an honest account of her life and, in a way, her only confidante and most prized possession. As Holly comes to terms with her life and overcomes obstacle after obstacle to improve it, she eventually learns to accept love and kindness instead of running from it.
Holly may be familiar to fans of Wendelin Van Draanen, as she originated in the author's earlier novel, SAMMY KEYES AND THE SISTERS OF MERCY (and Sammy shows up in RUNAWAY as well). Holly is spunky, smart, brave and vulnerable, and we love to root for her. Despite the horrors she endures, the book is not as gritty as it could have been, and Holly's mature and insightful writing sometimes make her world seem less threatening than it might be in real life --- although that could also be because Holly doesn't tell us everything and occasionally skips the most horrific of her experiences.
RUNAWAY seems to have a touch of innocence that doesn't always mesh with the idea of a child living on the streets. But Van Draanen is an excellent writer and Holly is someone to admire as she perseveres in a life that would destroy most people. Her story is worth reading and learning from.
           This certainly isn't twelve-year-old Holly's first time running away from one of her various foster families, but this time is different. This time she not only runs away, she actually gets away - away from her cruel foster parents and life being shipped around all the time--that's got to be good, right? Freedom at last!

Maybe it sounds good, but there's something wrong with that plan: Holly has nowhere else to go. Freedom quickly turns into a struggle to survive on the streets as Holly crosses the country in search of food and a place to sleep. Hopping onto trains or sneaking into the luggage compartment of a bus sounds like an adventure turns out not to be nearly as fun as it sounds. Holly, though, is stubborn; she's not giving up, not getting found. She's not going back to the cruel Bender family, who lock her in the laundry room when they feel that she has misbehaved. She still misses her mother; even though her mother was a junkie, at least she cared about Holly. Since her mother's death, though, Holly's luck has gone from bad to worse. Surviving on her own is tough, but at least she's free of her abusive foster parents, and she's never going back.

Runaway is Holly's journal chronicling her experiences as a twelve-year-old runaway. Careful readers of Wendelin Van Draanen's Sammy Keyes books may recognize her as a minor character in Sammy Keyes and the Sisters of Mercy, but this isn't a sequel to any of those books, and it is not at all necessary to have read them (though the connection is cool). This is a touching, realistic, beautifully written story that anyone will be able to enjoy.

Holly's voice is a major part of why this book is so wonderful. It is a great story, but it wouldn't be the same told from a third-person point of view. Holly is a budding writer who started the journal because of an English teacher. As she writes, she even starts writing poetry, which is quite good and a great addition to the story. It's even more of a window into what goes on in Holly's heart and mind as she searches for a safe place to call home than her regular journal entries.

It is also a window into a world most of us know nothing about, showing the daily struggles of people without a roof over their heads or a place to call home. Homelessness is a big issue, one that people perhaps don't know enough about or pay enough attention to, and this novel brings that to the attention of readers. Another problem that will come to the reader's attention is the flawed foster care system in America. These problems don't get the attention that they deserve, and reading Holly's story could inspire some readers to try and help, or at least to notice and care a little more.

Even though Wendelin Van Draanen has a history of writing fabulous and popular novels (Flipped and the Sammy Keyes series, for example), Runaway exceeds the expectations of even her biggest fans. The characters are well-drawn, the plot interesting, and the story as a whole powerful and absorbing.
Holly is an orphan that has been in "the system" for a while. Her current foster family starves her in the cold laundry room. Holly doesn't trust adults and she is very sceptic when her teacher gives her an empty journal to write in to make her feel better. When she can't take the abuse any more from her foster parents, she decides to run away and try for a better life. Holly takes the journal with her and this becomes her lifeline through her travels. When her escape becomes more of a struggle to survive, she has to face the fact that she is 12 years old and homeless. 

Personal opinion:
This story is told from Holly's point of view through her journal entries. I usually love this kind of style to tell a story, and this book was no exception. She starts out as an angry teen scolding her teacher for giving her a lame journal. Her emotions come off as very strong. She is naive and pigheaded at the same time, which I liked about her. The things she has been through are harsh. She lived on the streets before with her mother and doesn't even remember her father or the happy times of her childhood. The story is fast paced and it made me want to keep reading. The resourcefulness of Holly is amazing and she manages to rescue herself out of many difficult situations because she is very streetwise. 

Futher in the journal, we get to read more and more about how bad Holly was treated and the things she has been through are shocking for a girl of her age. Even though I read through it fairly quick, I wouldn't consider it a light read and I am not sure if I find it really suitable for younger teens. The book covers some heavy subjects, like violence, abuse and drugs. I have read books that we're heavier then this but for a teen book, I found it rather deep which I didn't expect when I picked it up. The story pulled me in though and this is always a good sign. I got another pleasant surprise when I found out that food, or actually the struggle to get food, was a major topic in this book. This is a totally different take on food and how far you can go, when you need to survive. I give it a 4 out of 5 total and I will gladly add it to the http://foodiesreadingchallenge.wordpress.com/, even though I didn't read this book with that purpose. 

Recommend this product? Yes

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