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Review of The Runaways

The Runaways
by Ulf Stark; illus. by Kitty Crowther; trans. from the Swedish by Julia Marshall
Primary, Intermediate    Gecko    134 pp.
4/19    978-1-77652-33-5    $17.99
Paper ed.  978-1-776572-34-2    $11.88

The portrait of old age and infirmity in this Swedish import is considerably more unvarnished than we’re used to in books for children. Grandpa is no lovable old codger. In the hospital with a broken leg and a failing heart, he’s furious, foul-mouthed, self-centered, and abusive to the staff. Even his own son can’t stand him. His only ally is his grandson, a boy with a deep-seated affection for the old man and admiration for his stubbornness. Together they plan and carry out an elaborate secret breakout, an overnight retreat to Grandpa’s family home on an island. There’s no Hallmark moment, but in matter-of-fact discussions of death, heaven, and “compassionate lying,” the old man and the young boy come to a place of acceptance and peace. A single crow signifies the essence of a person; a jar of lingonberry jam is a delicate stand-in for love and loss. The plot of a child helping an old person go on the lam isn’t particularly original; ditto the theme of grandparents and grandchildren in alliance against parents. But in this iteration every emotional effect is fully earned, and the final beat — in which we learn, obliquely, that Grandpa has died — is deeply affecting. Frequent full-page illustrations, in colored pencil, match the text in being simultaneously homely and honest.

From the May/June 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

About Sarah Ellis

Sarah Ellis is a Vancouver-based writer and critic, recently retired from the faculty of The Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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