This thoughtful verse novel by Australian author Sherryl Clark wasn’t at all what I was expecting. The cover artwork combined with the beginning of the back cover blurb (‘The red balloon explodes. My blood runs hot from skull to toes. I grab my bag and run’) gave me the impression that the book would be quite sinister and I was delighted to find that it was far more thought-provoking than thriller.
Cassie and Jack’s home situation is very difficult. Their father has been absent for some time and their mother makes no effort to hide how much she struggles to cope with Jack’s behavioural problems. Cassie has fond memories of happy times spent fishing with her grandfather, but those times seem long ago and there is little in her present situation to make her smile.
When Jack and Cassie’s father returns home it seems like things might improve, but things instead go from bad to worse when their father leaves, taking Jack with him. What will Cassie and Jack do without each other?
Runaways is the sad story of two children emotionally neglected by their self-focused parents. It is heartbreaking and confronting, but there is also a sense of hope within the story as Cassie and Jack find strength through each other and their relationship, which draws them together despite the obstacles and distance between them.
The verse novel format works wonderfully to portray both Cassie and Jack’s personalities, with Cassie’s thoughts neatly aligned down the page and Jack’s rambling thoughts scattered over the page and dotted with icons.
I also loved the way the pleasant memory of time spent with her grandfather centred Cassie, how it provided her with a sense of connection and belonging.
I really enjoyed Runaways and I think it is a perfect example of how the verse novel format can really enhance the experience of reading a story. I can imagine the novel sparking some interesting discussions at home or in the classroom about family, belonging and parenting.
Author: Sherryl Clark
Publisher: Puffin, $14.99 RRP
Publication Date: 27 March 2013
Format: Soft cover
For ages: 11+
Type: Middle Fiction, Young Adult Fiction