Running on the Cracks

Running on the Cracks by Julia Donaldson

Leo just can’t stay at her aunt and uncle’s house any more.  Her parents are both dead, so she heads to Glasgow to search for her grandparents using only a few clues that her father had given her over the years.  After a few days of homelessness, Leo is rescued by Mary, a recent psychiatric patient, who tends to take in waifs and strays.  The newspapers carry stories of Leo’s disappearance, so she is forced to hide in Mary’s apartment and only goes out at dawn to sketch.  Finlay, a teen who wants to be tougher than he really is, meets Leo when she steals doughnuts from a cart he works at.  He recognizes her as the missing girl and only later becomes a friend and protector.   As Leo continues to hide from the authorities, her group of friends become more like family to her.  But just when she begins to relax a bit, her uncle appears and the dangers of living with him become clear.

This story mixes tension with a story that is deep and moving.  The tension of pursuit is constantly present in the story, but the meat of the book is really Leo’s search for her family and for a safe haven and the people she encounters and bonds with in that journey.  Leo is a great biracial character.  Her Chinese background plays an important role in the story and in her search for her family.  She is a well-written character who shows great strength and ingenuity in the face of so many difficulties.  It is also wonderful to see a male protagonist in Finlay who is just as strongly written and interesting as Leo.  The pairing makes this a great choice for all readers.

Another aspect of the novel is the character of Mary who suffers from mental illness.  She offers Leo protection and a home, but her moods and actions become more and more disorganized as the novel goes on.  Her illness is portrayed with honesty and not hostility, which is refreshing.

I am not a fan of the cover.  I wish it showed more of Leo and Finlay who make an intriguing pair of friends.

A fast-paced novel, this book reads quickly and despite darker themes is more about the positive side of life.  Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from copy received from publisher.