Through her journal entries, 12-year-old Holly Janquell reveals her experiences living in foster homes since her mother died of a drug overdose two years ago. Holly has already thwarted the sexual advances of one foster father and now, living with the Evans, things aren't any better. Mr. and Mrs. Evans accuse her of lying, stealing and drug use, then, as punishment, lock Holly in the laundry room for days. It's her teacher, Ms. Leone, who gives Holly the journal ("It'll help you turn the page"). After a terrible scene with Mr. Evans, Holly runs away, eventually making her way to California. Constantly moving from place to place, Holly is caught off guard when Sammie, from the soup kitchen, offers help. Sammie introduces Holly to two women (mother and daughter) who eventually become the family Holly has been longing for. Holly's diary entries, which include poetry, unspool as ongoing conversations with Ms. Leone. Van Draanen's (the Sammy Keyes series) portrayal of Holly's situation is gravely realistic, though some of Holly's entries seem too perfectly written for a poorly educated 12-year-old. Still, readers will be drawn to Holly as she shifts between her search for a safe place to live, her anger at the foster care system and her reflections on the circumstances that led up to her mother's overdose. Ages 10-up. (Sept.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
VOYA - Amy Sisson
When twelve-year-old Holly runs away from her latest foster home, she takes with her, without quite understanding why, the journal that an English teacher had been requiring her to keep. The journal entries relate Holly's experiences as she avoids police, social workers, and some territorial and potentially violent homeless people. Holly initially resents the journal, which represents her teacher, but she eventually learns that writing about her life brings a certain measure of peace. Looking back at this novel, the reader may recognize its constructed nature: the revealing of Holly's past at a carefully planned pace, the perhaps unrealistic sophistication of Holly's poetry, her predictable realization that she must learn to trust people. This after-the-fact recognition, however, does not interfere with the lovely emotion of this story, and it's easy to imagine teens being swept along. Both this story and Van Draanen's earlier novel, Flipped (Knopf, 2001/VOYA December 2001), show the author's real talent for writing contemporary, gripping, and profoundly emotional stories. Although Holly experiences unwanted physical attention from a foster parent and is attacked by a homeless man who may intend rape, there are no graphic scenes, enabling this book to be recommended to teens and tweens of all ages. Although it does not quite reach the exquisite heights of To Take a Dare, a still-pertinent runaway novel by Paul Zindel and Crescent Dragonwagon (Harper & Row, 1982/VOYA August 1992), it comes close, and as such belongs in every public and school library.
Think Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt, only 12-year-old Holly has no family at all to take care of, just herself, and no place to run to except a mythical Los Angeles. She's the veteran of five foster homes after the death of her heroin-addicted mother two years before. Marked as a troublemaker and a runaway, she's been emotionally and physically abused. Now she's in the foster home from hell and no one will believe how desperate her situation is. Her English teacher assigns the class journal keeping and preaches that writing can help people cope. Holly feels that Ms. Leone is dangerously nanve but can't stop making journal entries as she runs away once again, making her way across the country, sleeping in homeless shelters, begging for food, hopping on trains, and finally reaching L.A., which turns out to be less than she expected. Yet she persists until she finds the ocean and a home. Meanwhile, she talks to her journal and finds that writing can indeed help her deal with her problems and resolve some of the pain. The plot is suspenseful and the voice is engaging, although Holly resembles no real-world 12-year-old. The voice is much, much older, as when Holly remarks that taking a hot bath is like "massage therapy for the soul." Yet what English teacher could resist a book where the theme is that writing is good for you? In the end, though, in spite of the author's intention, it's not clear whether YAs would see Holly's homelessness and living by her wits as de-glamorized or glamorized. The question is worth a discussion. KLIATT Codes: JS--Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2006, Random House, Knopf, 160p., $15.95.. Ages 12 to 18.
Children's Literature - Naomi Milliner
"I'm not homeless. I'm a gypsy," twelve-year-old Holly writes in her journal. Since her mother died of an overdose two years ago, Holly has been shuffled around from one foster home to another. Although the early families were genuinely kind and caring, Holly was too angry to appreciate them. The more she rebelled, the worse the placements became, until even the streets were preferable. Running away with little but her journal, Holly spends May through November on the road, on her own. By day, she scrambles to survive, foraging for food, seeking shelter, avoiding authorities. By night, she dreams of a better life: a home, a family, soft beds and hot meals, and a dog by her side. She also journals frequently, documenting her troubles and triumphs, offering a window into a homeless person's life with sad and beautiful poems like "Neon is my night-light." Fans of Van Draanen's popular "Sammy Keyes" series will find this a very different tone; yet, they will also be happily surprised by the unexpected appearance of Sammy herself near the story's end. A cross between Paulsen's classic Hatchet, and Haddix's Don't You Dare Read This, Mrs. Dunphrey, Van Draanen has fashioned a terrific character in Holly. She is smart, resourceful, and, despite her hard-luck life, incredibly grateful: "Sometimes I get so caught up in my problems that I forget how amazing the world is." This is a powerful reminder of that very sentiment for today's readers.
School Library Journal
Gr 6-8-Readers won't look at homeless people in quite the same way after meeting Holly and seeing her through five long months on her own. An urban, female version of Gary Paulsen's Hatchet (Macmillan, 1986), this novel chronicles the daily struggle for food, shelter, safety, and cleanliness that becomes the focus of life once a home and income are stripped away. Twelve-year-old Holly knows a lot about living on the streets, since she lived that life with her drug-addicted mother before the woman's death from an overdose. She determines that it is preferable to continuing in her abusive foster home. A journal provided by a compassionate teacher is where she records her lonely and difficult struggle for survival. While the plot has the occasional convenience, readers will be drawn to the gripping details of both physical and emotional landmines hidden in the ordinariness of everyday life. This is a great book to hand-sell or booktalk to young teens who enjoy a dose of emotional trauma in their fiction or for reluctant readers who need suspense to keep them turning the pages. Van Draanen has shown great versatility in adding another dimension to her already respected body of work.-Faith Brautigam, Gail Borden Public Library, Elgin, IL Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Holly is a remarkably articulate 12-year-old runaway, orphaned by her mother's overdose and hardened by a series of unsuccessful placements in foster homes. Despite occasional lapses into uncharacteristically sophisticated language and decidedly philosophical musings, her first-person story, presented in journal form, will grab readers from the first entry. Her gradual emotional growth is mirrored by her journey across the country and expressed in both poetry and prose. Van Draanen effectively conveys the na‹ve optimism of youth, often found even in those whose lives offer no evidence that such optimism is warranted, as well as both the good intentions and character flaws of the adults who have been a part of Holly's life thus far. She doesn't flinch from presenting the harsh realities of homelessness, neither sugarcoating nor sensationalizing the subject. Although violence and drug addiction have been a big part of Holly's experience, they do not overpower her story. Readers will be relieved when Holly finally finds a way to ask for help-and receives it. (Fiction. 10-14)
From the Publisher
“Will grab readers from the first entry.”— Kirkus Reviews
“Holly's lively self lingers in the way the best characters do. Runaway is certainly one of the best young adult books of the year.” — The Sacramento Bee
“This is a great book [for] young teens . . . Van Draanen has shown great versatility in adding another dimension to her already respected body of work.” —School Library Journal
“The ending of this taut, powerful story seems possible and deeply hopeful.” —Booklist
“Readers will be drawn to Holly as she shifts between her search for a safe place to live, her anger at the foster care system and her reflections on the circumstances that led up to her mother's overdose.” — Publishers Weekly
Read an Excerpt
By Wendelin Van Draanen
Random House Wendelin Van Draanen
All right reserved.
It's cold. It's late. I'm trapped in here, trying to sleep under this sorry excuse for a blanket, and I've just got to tell you--you don't know squat. You think you know what I'm going through, you think you know how I can "cope," but you're just like everybody else: clueless. Writing. Poetry. Learning to express myself. "It'll help you turn the page, Holly. Just try it."
Well, I'm trying it, see? And is it making me feel better? NO! Giving me this journal was a totally lame thing to do. You think writing will get me out of here? You think words will make me forget about the past? Get real, Ms. Leone!
Words can't fix my life.
Words can't give me a family.
Words can't do jack.
You may be a teacher, Ms. Leone, but face it: You don't know squat.
Oh, you really took the cake today. "Put your most embarrassing experience in the form of a cinquain poem." What did you expect me to do? Write the truth? I knew you'd read them out loud and you did! How do you spell idiot? I spell it L-E-O-N-E.
Did you like my little poem about spilling my milk in a restaurant? Stupid, I know, so give me an F, see if I care. Like I can even remember ever being in a real restaurant.
You want a cinquain poem about amost embarrassing moment that actually happened to me? Okay, here you go:
Shivering, huddling, sobbing
Naked in the rain
Oh, yeah. That makes me feel SO much better.
My mom died two years ago today.
I'd been scamming food, she'd been shooting up.
I miss her.
More than I have tears to cry, I miss her.
May 20th, again
You want to know why I was crying at recess? That cat Camille is why. She called me a homeless freak. Told me I had a face only my mother could love. Normally, I would have told her to eat dirt and die, but today I just couldn't take it.
I didn't tell you because I knew you wouldn't believe me. Everyone knows she's your favorite. "Miss Leone, do you need some help?" "Miss Leone, do you want me to pass those out?" "Oh, Miss Leone, you look so pretty today!" Adopt her, why don't you?
Oh, that's right--she already has two parents.
May 20th again, again
When they moved me in with the Benders, the social worker told me that they were "very kind and very patient people." What a laugh. They're phonies, is what they are. Mrs. Bender is a heartless witch, and Mr. Bender is a total creep. He's always touching me. On the shoulder. On the hair. On the hand. He gets that same look that Mr. Fisk used to get when his wife wasn't around.
Social services won't believe me if I complain. They'll say I'm just looking for trouble. Lying. Faking. Overreacting. "Self-inflicting."
Well, I'm not going through that again. I'd rather DIE than go through that again. So tonight when Mr. Bender started massaging my shoulders, I told him, "Stop it!"
He didn't. "I'm only trying to help you unwind," he said in his snaky voice.
"Stop it!" I shouted. "Don't touch me!" And I slapped his creepy hands away.
That brought Mrs. Bender running. "What is going on in here?" she asked, and after he explained it to her, I got locked in my room. Not the room they show the social worker. That's the room they tell me I'll get when I'm a "good" girl. The room I really get is the laundry room. They give me a mat, a blanket, and a bucket to pee in.
So sweet dreams, Ms. Leone, in your feathery bed or whatever you have.
Do you really believe words are going to keep me warm and safe tonight?
May 21st, early morning
Why am I doing this? Why am I writing to you again? I'm shivering in this room, huddled under this blanket writing to you, and why? What good is it? I'm hungry, I can't sleep, I'm locked in here, and I've got to pee. I hate using the bucket, I just hate it.
Man, I've got to go. Hold on a minute.
Oh, that's better.
Maybe I can get back to sleep now.
Nope. I'm too cold.
So you want to hear how I get a drink when they trap me in here on weekends? I turn on the washer. Pretty sly, huh? I used to put my blanket in the dryer and get it roasting hot, but the dryer quit working and of course I got blamed.
I don't mind the size of this squatty little room, it's the cold that gets me. Why can't they give me a better blanket? How about a sleeping bag? Would that kill them?
Whatever. No matter how much I try, I'll never be "good" enough to sleep in the real room.
I've got to come up with a plan to get out of here.
May 21st again, lunchtime
What is it with you and poetry? It's like some crazy obsession with you. And I couldn't believe your stupid "Life is poetry" statement. Maybe your life is poetry, but mine's a pile of four-letter words. "Find the motion. Find the rhythm. Find the timbre of your life." Whose idea is all this? Yours? Did somebody teach you this stuff? How's this ever going to help me in life?
And guess what? You can forget it. I'm not doing it. Write your own stupid poem about your own poetic life.
Mine would just get me sent to the office.
May 21st again again, after school
I hate you, you know that? I hate you for making me write that poem. I hate you for making me lie about my life. But most of all I hate you for acting so sweet to me. You don't really care. I'm a job to you, like I am to everybody else. I know it, so quit pretending you care.
And you probably think you're doing a good job, but guess what? You're not. I can see right through you, so just leave me alone, would you? Forget I'm even in your class. Forget you're supposed to be trying to "help" me. And quit making me write poems!
Excerpted from Runaway by Wendelin Van Draanen 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.
What People are saying about this
From the Publisher
“Readers will be drawn to the gripping details of both physical and emotional landmines hidden in the ordinariness of everyday life. This is a great book to hand-sell or booktalk to young teens. . . . Van Draanen has shown great versatility in adding another dimension to her already respected body of work.”–School Library Journal
“Readers will be drawn to Holly as she shifts between her search for a safe place to live, her anger at the foster care system and her reflections on the circumstances that led up to her mother’s overdose.”–Publishers Weekly