I was seven the first time I packed a bag to run away. I probably had a disagreement with my mom about whether or not I could eat another slice of Kraft American cheese and decided I had had enough of that authoritarian, restricted life and should hit the hills. I remember I packed up a little 70s style suitcase with a couple of outfits, but by the time I went to zip it up I realized I wasn’t really mad anymore. I loved my family, pets, and stuffed animals. Plus, where would I go potty? Or get more cheese? Priorities.
This rationale was not the case for The Runaway‘s Rhiannon Morgan. Having left her small Welsh village of Llandymna for the surrounding forest area of Dyrys, she decides she’d rather go it on her own than continue to keep fighting with her aunt Diana. What she doesn’t consider is how much she will learn about others in the process of weaving a barrier between herself and everyone she knows.
Read on for more of my review of The Runaway, due to be published by Lion Fiction in April of 2017.
After a row (gotta love British terminology!) with her aunt, Rhiannon takes off. She is very concerned with hoping people miss her and realize their loss when she first gets to the woods. Since her uncle did camp with her a few times before his death, she understands a bit about how to take care of herself, but she is rather afraid at first too. As she carries out her quest for self-actualization without others, the village itself experiences foibles of its own. The nature of humanity entails pride, which carries with it the expectation for respect, among other emotions, so with Rhiannon missing, the villagers are already on edge and her disappearance only adds to the lack of mirth among neighbors. Past grievances are aired, squabbles are had, and some mild chaos ensues.
The characters are all very relatable, albeit not particularly well fleshed-out. If this novel were for young adults this would be perfect. Diana is the overbearing authority figure; Tom, the just-figuring-it-out leader; Callum, a young man waiting to be thought of as an adult; Ifan, the entitled bully always in search of (un)warranted respect; Nia, the quiet but unexpectedly powerful one; and Maebh, the loved and sage village disciplinarian. There will be a character for everyone or that reminds everyone of someone.
The novel is set in the Welsh countryside, and the book is in three parts; alternating sections share first-person limited narration of Rhiannon and third person limited narration of all other characters. With Rhiannon being the focus of the narrative (she is, after all, The Runaway), it makes sense that she is the first person viewpoint. Her perspective is realistic throughout most of the novel, but it would be most relatable to someone much younger than her fictional 17-year-old character.
This book is definitely meant for younger audiences as it contains primarily surface level characterization throughout, even Rhiannon’s first person limited narration. For instance, while in the woods, she discusses many important aspects: shelter, building a fire, and finding sustainable food sources. However, she doesn’t even mention the need for toiletries or sanitary aspects until over a month being in the woods. While the novel’s theme does not necessarily need the depth to carry out the message, it does leave readers a bit uncertain of the reliability of the character when there isn’t a common connection.
Readers learn that cutting oneself off from everyone and running away will never solve the troubles of humanity; only being a part of the fray and speaking up for injustice can create peace. This is a lesson most often learned throughout turmoil, and the book itself would offer great talking points for discussion among students, book clubs, or parents and children.
I would definitely read this book with my high school book club students. Most are young, 9th grade primarily; I wouldn’t suggest it for upper level high school as the depth simply isn’t there for them to feel as related to the characters. The vocabulary is more of a jr. high level, too, but the plot is interesting enough to keep students reading.
Overall, a good read for middle school or 9th grade students. I would not add it to curriculum as its depth does not offer many aspects needed for state standards and Common Core; however, I feel it is an intriguing read for students.
I received an advanced copy of this text via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.