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The way I figure it, these "ideal placements" by Chicago's social services never add up to much. And anyway, so far, my life has been subtraction. Two parents and a brother and me. Take away one brother, and that leaves two parents and me. Take away one parent, and that leaves one parent and me. Take away another parent, and that leaves me, Dakota Brown, age almost 16, trying not to wonder what it will be like when I'm the one taken away.
Bouncing in the backseat of the social worker's car-the front seat has too many papers and folders about me to fit the real me in it-I decide it's time for a list. I love lists. You can take a mess like Ms. Social Worker has going for her in the front seat and, in a few minutes, turn it into a list that fits on a single sheet of paper. Lists bring things under control. My control.
I take my list-book out of my backpack and turn to a clean page. Glancing in the rearview mirror, I catch the frown of concentration on the social worker's face. She's too busy trying to get us out of Chicago traffic to worry about what I'm doing in the backseat.
I know her name is Ms. Bean, but in my head I keep thinking ofher as "the social worker" because things are easier that way. She's not a bad person, and I'm not trying to get her into trouble or anything. But because I'm so good at what I do-running away-I'm bound to make her look pretty lousy at what she does. She thinks she's driving me to my new foster family, where I'll live happily ever after and forever be a pleasant anecdote for her to share with friends and family and future fosters everywhere.
Poor Ms. Social Worker. She is doomed to fail. The State of Illinois has not invented a foster family from which I, Dakota Brown, cannot escape.
In my list-book, I form an action plan.
A. Pay attention to the route leading to my new location. It is also my route out.
B. Control reaction to new setting. It's important that the social worker believes I like my new digs.
C. Headache. This will be my medical weapon of choice, the only complaint I'll voice, my one excuse to get out of whatever needs getting out of.
D. Observe. Knowledge is power.
E. Never cry. At least, never let them see you cry.
F. Never get angry. (Yeah, right.) Don't let them see the anger.
G. Never "confide," as the social worker likes to call it.
H. Be friendly, but do not make friends.
"Dakota, what are you writing?" Ms. Bean asks.
"Sorry." I close my list-book and flash a smile to the rearview mirror.
"Don't be sorry," she says, smiling back at the mirror. This action makes her come up too fast on the little sports car in front of us.
"Ms. Bean!" I shout.
She slams on the brakes, forcing the car behind us to do the same. Horns honk. "I hate traffic," she admits.
I wonder how she ended up in Chicago when she hates traffic so much. But I don't ask. My mind reaffixes the Ms. Social Worker label, and I stare out the window.
Ms. Bean is not the clichéd social worker. She's a stylish, 24-year-old college graduate with light red hair, funky earrings, and clothes I wouldn't mind wearing myself. I know she's engaged. But other than the fact that she's a lousy driver, I don't know much else about her. That's the way I like it.
I lean back and close my eyes, hoping she'll drop the subject of my writing notebook, her driving, and everything else. After a minute, I open my eyes and stare out the window again. Cars whiz by all around us. Every car window is closed. Heat rises from the pavement between the lanes. Even with the air-conditioning blasting, I can smell Chicago, a mixture of tar, exhaust fumes, and metal.
The social worker slams on her brakes again, but I can't see any reason for it this time.
"Sorry about that," she mutters. Maybe to me. Maybe to the guy behind her, who rolls down his window enough to scream at her.
"Don't stop writing on my account, Dakota," she says. "Unless it makes you carsick. It always makes me carsick."
I'm thinking that if I get carsick, it will have more to do with her driving style than it does with my writing style. But Rule #11 on my "How to Handle Social Workers" list is "Don't criticize. It puts them on the defensive."
I say, "You're right, Ms. Bean. I really shouldn't write while I'm in the car."
"My sister is a journalist," Ms. Bean tells me.
It's more information than I care to know. I don't want to picture her as a person, with a newspaper-writing sister.
"Charlotte has a mini recorder she carries with her everywhere," the social worker continues. "Instead of writing notes, she talks into that recorder, even when she's driving. My dad keeps telling her not to record and drive, but she won't listen."
She hits her horn when someone changes lanes right in front of her without signaling.
"How far out of Chicago is this place?" I ask.
I know this is the name of the town they're dragging me to, but it takes a second to register. "Yeah. Nice," I say. "Only are you sure they don't pronounce it 'Niece,' like that city in France?" Both cities are spelled the same, but I'm guessing the similarities end there.
"That would make sense," she admits. "But no. You'll be living in Nice, Illinois." She giggles. "And going to Nice High. And I'm sure you'll be a nice resident of Nice."
I manage to smile, although I can only imagine how old this play on names must get. I'm already feeling not so nice about it. "So, are we getting close?"
"It's still a good ways," Ms. Bean answers. "The board thought a rural home might be a nice change for you." She smiles, then lets the "nice" thing fade without comment.
Neither of us says anything, so her last words bang around in my head. The board thought a rural home would be a nice change? The board doesn't know me well enough to know how ridiculous it is to think a rural home would be just the ticket for Dakota Brown. The "ticket" for me is a one-way ticket out of there.
"Are you writing a book?" Ms. Bean asks.
"No," I answer, hoping she'll leave it alone.
"No? A letter, maybe?"
Those files scattered all over the front seat have enough information on me that she should know there's nobody in the world I'd write a letter to. "It's just lists," I say to get her off my case.
"Like a shopping list?"
"Just a list," I answer, trying not to let her see that this conversation is getting to me.
"Like what, for example?" Ms. Bean can turn into a little kid sometimes. She reminds me of this girl, Melody, who was in a foster home in Cicero with me for two months. Melody would grab on to a question and not let it go until she shook an answer out of you.
"Read me one, will you, Dakota?" she begs.
I'm pretty sure Ms. Bean will keep asking me about lists until I either read her one or get so angry I won't be able to keep up my cheerful act. That, I don't want.
I open my list-book and flip through dozens of lists until I come to a social worker-friendly list. "Okay ... here's a list of five cities I want to visit one day." This is a real list I've made, but I have a hundred cities on it. Not five.
"That's awesome!" she exclaims. "Which cities, Dakota?"
"Paris, Vienna, Rome, Moscow, and Fargo." I stop and close the notebook before she can peek in the rearview mirror at the next list, because it looks like this:
Top 8 Cities I Never Want to See Again
1. Elgin, IL
2. Evanston, IL
3. Aurora, IL
4. Glen Ellyn, IL
5. Kankakee, IL
6. Cicero, IL
7. Chicago, IL
Ms. Bean was my social worker in only the last two cities, but she's got files on me from the other five. So she'd pick up on this list right away and make a big deal of it if she saw it.
I wait until she's totally confused and trying to study her map while avoiding crashing into trucks. Then I open my list-book and fill in that blank by #8 of the cities I never want to see again.
When I'm sure she's not looking, I write in big letters:
Excerpted from Runaway by DANDI DALEY MACKALL Copyright © 2008by Dandi Daley Mackall.Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted November 26, 2011
I really enjoyed the book. I read it all in one sitting it was so good!!! I rocommend it to horse lovers and the series to animal lovers too.
18 out of 19 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 1, 2011
Dakota Brown is a foster kid who is constantly planning to run away. Even prior to arriving at Starlight Animal Rescue ("Where problem horses are trained and loved, where abandoned dogs become heroes, where stray cats become loyal companions, and where people with nowhere to fit in find a place to belong"), she is already plotting her escape. She loves to make lists, because they make her feel in control.
What she doesn't yet know is that this family is perfect for her. They love Jesus, animals, and her. Speaking of animals, even though Dakota has never been around horses (she's only studied them in books), turns out....she's a horse whisperer. :)
An abused horse she names Blackfire just may save her life.
This is a great new series by Dandi Daley Mackall.
11 out of 15 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 31, 2011
Recently I sat down and read Runaway, the first book in Dandi Daley Mackall's Starlight Animal Rescue series. Having never read one of Mackall's books before, I wasn't quite sure what to expect, even though I had heard a lot of really good things about some of her other teen book series. All in all, I have to say that I was very much pleased, and that this book exceeded my expectations.
Runaway tells the story of Dakota Brown, an orphan who has a penchant for running away from the foster homes she gets placed in. So when she gets dropped off at the Starlight Animal Rescue farm, she has no plans of sticking around. Once she hears back from her friend in Chicago and formulates a plan she'll be away from this place for good. That is, until she meets Blackfire, a horse who just might be more afraid of life then she is. But will this horse, and the crazy cast of characters who reside at the farm with her, be able to soften her heart and show her what truly matters in life before it's too late?
Wow, I have to say that I was extremely impressed with this book. Mackall definitely has a love for all animals, especially horses, and that truly shines through in this book. The way she describes the horses, how they act, what they smell like, and how a person feels when they're around them is truly amazing. I honestly don't think anyone can write about horses the way she does. So if you are looking for an enjoyable, faith based book for a young reader, I would most definitely recommend this book, because I know that whoever reads it will absolutely love it.
8 out of 11 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 16, 2011
This book is about a teenage girl, Dakota Brown, who is a foster kid. She has run away from many other foster homes and before she even gets to the Coolidges farm, Starlight Animal Rescue, she has begun to form her plan to run away. At the farm she meets a runaway horse and they understand each other well. As Dakota works with the horse, which she renames Blackfire, she begins to learn about love, God, horses and why she always runs away. Another great read. This book also includes a bit Winnie the Horse Gentler, through e-mails that Dakota writes to the pet help line, which was great because I wasn't ready to let her go yet!
8 out of 10 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 1, 2013
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Posted June 21, 2011
Dakota Brown, a 15 year-old girl who has been in seven foster homes is on her way to the next one and has already decided she will run away. Turns out, this foster home is an animal rescue farm and Dakota takes a liking to a horse named Blackfire who she has an effect on.
A new series by Dandi Daley Mackall, author of the best-selling Winnie the Horse Gentler series!
I've run away seven times-never once to anything, just away from. Maybe that's why they call me a "runaway," and not a "run-to."
Meet 16-year-old Dakota Brown. She used to love all things "horse" until she lost everything, including hope. The minute she sets foot on her foster parents' farm-Starlight Animal Rescue-she plans her escape. But can an "impossible" horse named Blackfire and this quirky collection of animal lovers be the home she's always dreamed of?
Starlight Animal Rescue: Where problem horses are trained and loved, where abandoned dogs become heroes, where stray cats become loyal companions. And where people with nowhere to fit in find a place to belong.
Dakota goes through a lot and learns valuable lessons from this family, including two other foster kids. She learns to love and to be loved. I loved the warm characters, even the animal ones. The interaction between them is amazing.
This was a very easy-to-read story for all ages, a nice story of transformation, not overly pushy with the preaching but a story that does lead to the love of God.
I give it 5 stars.
6 out of 10 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 13, 2013
Posted February 7, 2013
Touching, I almost never read this type of book. I am o mystery / crime book person, but after reading a series of crime books, I needed a change of pace, and this hit the spot. Maybe I will start looking for less violent books. A very good short read.
2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 25, 2013
Posted August 30, 2013
I read runaway and it was NOT sad at all it is now one of my favorite books. But thanks for answering to below any how
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Posted August 26, 2013
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Posted April 20, 2013
I think if you like horse books then this is a great book. Their are big changes in the book. Its very good. I would recomend it for 8+.
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.