Monday, 10 October 2011

Review: Running on the Cracks - Julia Donaldson

Extent: 256 pages
Publisher: Egmont
Pub Date: 2nd March 2009

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...

When I was a kid, I always thought that running away would be a really glamorous and exciting thing to do so I have a strange attraction to runaway stories that still lingers into my adult years. Of course, the truth is, it’s not glamorous and exciting at all. It’s incredibly dangerous and as such is an extremely desperate act, especially when performed by a child, and Julia Donaldson has really excelled in capturing the dark side of running away while painting wonderful silver linings onto Leo’s plight. It’s hard to imagine someone who writes brilliant picture books could turn her hand to something much more threatening but clearly Julia’s story toolbox is well stocked.

From the first instant I met her, I fell in love with Leo. She’s one of those heroines who takes action at every turn and is courageous in the true sense that she knows there are things that are more important than fear. She’s a real survivor and that is what I really love in a lead character. I think it’s probably best to describe the other characters in this book as “a motley crew”. Julia Donaldson has written a rainbow of characters that you know you would find if you took a slice out of society in any large city. It’s almost as if her research consisted of going and sitting in a park one day and copying down every character she found walking by.

It’s not just great characters that make this book, however, there’s a real intelligence in the writing. A teen or older reader would probably recognise quite soon that underneath all the colours of the characters and the bright spots of hope, something very sinister is lurking. Uncle John is not just any old bad guy, he is the worst kind of predator and his short chapters dotted throughout the book are a real anchor to the story. If you were feeling uplifted at the end of the preceding chapter it won’t last long as you feel even your internal organs repelling against this man and the worst kind of dread runs down your spine. A bad guy rarely truly gives me the creeps – mostly because I love a good baddy! – but here is one that had my toes curling in revulsion. Mary makes for another sinister element in this story. Although she starts the story well and takes Leo in, she becomes increasingly unbalanced and spirals into an unpredictable and unstable character that threatens Leo’s safety and success.

I think what really makes this story is that it is so realistic – nothing is hard to believe and it has its foundation in a shocking truth that haunts too many children and teens today. That’s what I think young adult books should be all about: telling the truth, helping growing minds to explore and deal with both the good and bad forces in life. The characters are colourful, the writing clever and there’s a beautiful circularity to the story that goes a long way towards healing the wounds that the plot opens in your mind. A really worthwhile read!

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