Running on the Cracks [NOOK Book]


Leo’s running from her past. Finlay’s running into trouble. Together, they stumble into a crazy new world of secrets, lies, and Chinese food.

But someone is on Leo’s trail . . . Eccentric, unforgettable characters and genuine, heart-pounding suspense make for a stunning combination as celebrated author Julia Donaldson expands her talents in her first novel for young adults.

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Running on the Cracks

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Leo’s running from her past. Finlay’s running into trouble. Together, they stumble into a crazy new world of secrets, lies, and Chinese food.

But someone is on Leo’s trail . . . Eccentric, unforgettable characters and genuine, heart-pounding suspense make for a stunning combination as celebrated author Julia Donaldson expands her talents in her first novel for young adults.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This engaging, bittersweet story follows biracial British teenager Leonora (“Leo”) Watts-Chan, who was orphaned when her parents were killed in a plane crash, and has fled the home of her maternal aunt and perverted uncle. Interspersed with Leo’s first-person narration are third-person accounts of Finlay, a teenage goth wannabe who first encounters Leo when she steals a bag of doughnuts; the musings of Leo’s uncle, hot on her trail; and newspaper articles and letters. Rescued from homelessness by Mary, a former psychiatric patient, Leo is determined to find the paternal grandparents she has never met. With the help of unlikely friends and a string of coincidences, Leo finds her father’s family and learns the value of friendship (“I kind of think of the friends as my family too, as they’ve all been so good to me”). The characters in Donaldson’s (The Gruffalo; Room on the Broom) YA debut are well drawn and their imperfections are authentic, particularly Mary’s battle with mental illness. Despite heavy themes, the story is neither bleak nor gritty. The fast pace and short chapters should appeal to readers, who will celebrate the hopeful ending. Ages 12–up. (Sept.)
Children's Literature - Suzanna E. Henshon
What is it like to run away from home? Leonora Watts-Chan becomes an "orchestra orphan" when her parents die in a plane crash. Then she moves in with her aunt and uncle, only to discover her Uncle John is creepy around young girls. Could life get any worse for Leo? She runs away to Glasgow, Scotland. She is about to meet grandparents she has never met, find food and shelter, and try to survive as a runaway; but she would rather live dangerously than stay with her aunt and uncle. Things start to look up when Leo meets Mary in a park; Mary offers a place to sleep and friendship. Soon Leo becomes friends with the Godfather, the President, Ronnie, Lorraine, and a cast of characters who encourage and support her during difficult times. Life is starting to look up for this teenage runaway until her Uncle John chases her down. Will she survive on the streets? Or will she have to return to her uncle and aunt? In this exciting story, young readers will fall into the footsteps of Leonora, an orphan without a family or place to call home. Reviewer: Suzanna E. Henshon, Ph.D.
School Library Journal
Gr 6–9—Still reeling from the recent death of her parents in a plane crash, Leo, a 15-year-old girl of mixed Chinese and English descent, runs away from an unpleasant living situation and boards a train to Glasgow. Remaining incognito in the city proves to be difficult, but she eventually finds refuge with a kindhearted, mentally ill woman. After seeing Leo's picture in the paper, Finlay, a 13-year-old Goth paperboy, figures out who she is. They become friends as he learns of her circumstances and volunteers to help her locate the Chinese grandparents she's never known. Finding them is imperative, as Leo doesn't want to be forced back to her aunt's home, a dangerous environment with a leering Uncle John. Donaldson's novel, told from the shifting perspectives of Leo, Finlay, and Uncle John, is slow to start, but picks up as Leo's predator uncle appears on the scene to track her down. American readers will find bits of the dialect hard to understand, but the slowly building suspense, strong characterizations, and a narrative that includes information about the Chinese immigrant experience in Scotland and insight into the lives of the mentally ill make the book a worthwhile read.—Shawna Sherman, Hayward Public Library, CA
Kirkus Reviews
Leonora (aka Leo), a recently orphaned half-white/half-Chinese teen, has run away from her unhappy aunt and uncle's house in England to search for her estranged Chinese grandparents in Glasgow. Finlay, a wannabe Goth and part-time paperboy, is trying to grow his meager savings by working a snack van on the weekends, when starving Leo steals a bag of donuts. The ensuing chase leads to an unlikely friendship, as the two set out on a quest to find Leo's family. On the way they become involved with an assortment of down-and-out street people, including a sweet, batty old lady named Mary, who lets Leo crash in her hovel of a flat. Meanwhile, Leo's unsavory uncle has traced her to Glasgow and the race is on as to whether he will find her before she finds safety. This fast-paced, richly characterized Scottish import, imbued with the important message that friends are the family you choose, will be a boon to libraries looking to add more world literature to their teen collections. (Fiction. 12 & up)
From the Publisher
“Leo’s plight is universal and sure to attract the attention and empathy of many American teens.”—Booklist

“This fast-paced, richly characterized Scottish import, imbued with the important message that friends are the family you choose, will be a boon to libraries looking to add more world literature to their teen collections.”—Kirkus Reviews

“This engaging, bittersweet story follows biracial British teenager Leonora ('Leo') Watts-Chan… The fast pace and short chapters should appeal to readers, who will celebrate the hopeful ending.”—Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429998062
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
  • Publication date: 9/15/2009
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 1,278,215
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • File size: 240 KB

Meet the Author

Julia Donaldson is the best-selling author of The Gruffalo, The Giants and the Joneses, The Wrong Kind of Bark, Spinderella and Night Monkey, Day Monkey. She lives in Glasgow with her husband and spends a lot of time touring the country doing readings - and singing!  

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Read an Excerpt

Running on the Cracks


Station Loo

This is the bit I've planned. I know what I've got to do, but it would help if my hands would stop shaking.

It would help if there was more space too. I should have gone into the disabled loo instead of the ladies. The cubicle is tiny; the gap under the door feels huge. What if anyone peers under it? Instead of seeing two feet plonked apart facing forward, they'll see a bulky school bag and various clothes going in and out of it.

First, off comes the brand-new, snooty blazer with the high school crest on it. Poor blazer—it'll never enter the high school now.

A door swings. Footsteps, coming toward me. Another door bangs in my ear. Someone is in the loo next to mine. I freeze with my tie half unknotted.

Don't be so paranoid! No one's looking for me yet.

I unbutton the white shirt and slip out of the black skirt.

An echoey announcement wafts through the air. It's for the Exeter train, not mine, but there's not much time left.

I rummage in the school bag. Beneath the empty filesand folders and the unused gym kit is my precious sketchbook. That's not what I'm looking for, though it's good to feel its familiar battered corners.

Here it is, the secret carrier bag. And inside it, the jumble-sale clothes.

I still think that jumble sale was a brainwave. A total disguise, and such a cheap one—only £3.50 altogether for the beige hooded anorak, the white T-shirt and red sweater, the definitely nondesigner jeans and trainers (how Caitlin and Flo would slag me off if they saw them!), and the pair of sunglasses.

Actually, I'm not so sure about the sunglasses anymore. Maybe they'll just draw attention to me. After all, the clothes aren't summery. In fact, they're too hot for this warm September day, but then Glasgow is bound to be colder than Bristol, and it'll be winter all too soon.

Now for the cleverest trick of all. Folded up inside the carrier bag is a flimsy nylon hold-all—another jumble-sale bargain. It cost all of 40p and is big enough to contain my school bag and all its contents. Now I won't have to leave the school bag in the station or risk having it spotted and identified on the train.

The hold-all even has a zip pocket for my purse. No need to check the contents of the purse, really, but I do: £39.60 and a ticket.

The wrong ticket.

That's all right, though; it's all part of the plan. Insteadof a ticket to Glasgow, I've bought a standard day single to Paddington. The ticket will be as unused as the school uniform, and it cost a lot more than the jumble-sale clothes, but it was worth it. Along with my note, it should put them off the scent for a while. "I'm going to see the Dali exhibition at the Tate Britain," I told the ticket clerk. He'll remember me now. That's the plan anyway.

The £39.60 is just enough to pay for my ticket on the Glasgow train if I have to, but I do hope I won't. I'm planning some more sneaky visits to the loo, timed to coincide with any ticket inspections.

I remember Mum's scorn for fare-dodgers. "Sorry, Mum, but this is different," I tell her. I don't really believe in heaven, but I still find myself talking to her—and to Dad too.

The transformation is complete, and the ladies is all mine again. Furtively—no, casually; I mustn't look furtive—I emerge and look at myself in the mirror.

The clothes and hold-all are nondescript, which is the effect I wanted. My face is unfortunately not nondescript at all. I look Chinese, like Dad, instead of English like Mum. (For some reason, thinking about Mum and Dad isn't hurting so much as usual. I suppose the excitement and nerves are covering up the hurt.) If my hair had been long, I could maybe have cut it, but it's short, black, and shiny. Hood up? Hood down? Sunglasses on? Off?

No time for dithering, as a crescendo of train wheelsand a floating announcement remind me: "The nine forty-five for Glasgow Central is now arriving at platform one. Calling at Cheltenham Spa, Birmingham New Street, Preston, Carlisle, and Motherwell. Platform one for the nine forty-five to Glasgow Central."

Suddenly I feel sick. It's the thought of all those stops and starts. It's going to be a long journey, and I don't know what's at the other end.

Copyright © 2009 by Julia Donaldson

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2013

    Running on the Cracks

    This is on of the many books that I have picked up and absolutly fallen in love with. I read it from cover to cover in eight hours. I would recomend this book to anyone who likes thrilling runaway books of any kind, and to people with open minds about books.

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