CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 38. . . .June 9, 2017
Dee and her little brother Eddie have a problem. Their dad has disappeared nothing new to them and Dee doesn’t know when he’s coming back. Managing to keep things going as normal isn’t an issue for Dee; she’s used to taking care of Eddie. The real problems begin when a woman from children’s services shows up and starts asking questions that Dee can’t answer. Packing the necessities into the family’s rundown old car, Dee and Eddie leave behind their home in Arizona. Hughes’ story follows the siblings as they try to make their way to their aunt’s home in Canada before the authorities find out and separate them.
Dee is a believable blend of youth and maturity. Throughout the novel, she manages to cope with the curveballs being thrown at her, but not in a way that implies maturity beyond her years. Readers learn in the first chapter that she has taken on a number of adult responsibilities, such as working a part time job, but they also see a picture of how a typical teen might live with no parental supervision: dishes piled up, house a mess, no clean laundry. Her careful packing of the vehicle balances out her snap decision to run away. Overall, Hughes paints a picture of a very real and very scared teenage girl who has been given too much to handle.
Little brother Eddie is another well rounded character. His childish innocence (and sometimes just plain childishness) plays opposite to a sensitive, intuitive nature; for example, it is Eddie who stops them from getting in a car with a suspicious driver while hitchhiking. Later, he wakes up from a dream fearing the driver might possibly know their address. This intuition, coupled with a childish misunderstanding of reality, is a true reflection of what a little boy in that situation might actually feel, say, and do.
Besides creating honest characters, another thing Hughes does well in this novel is provoke emotion. Hit the Ground Running manages to bring up a number of different feelings throughout its 200+ pages. Readers can easily recognize the boredom Eddie feels at being trapped in the car, the tension as the pair hide from the social worker, and the anxiety as they wait in a police station. The underlying atmosphere in the novel is tense; Hughes succeeds in making readers consistently question whether Dee will manage to get the two of them to their Aunt Pat’s home safely. Sometimes it’s nice to know early on that there will be a happy ending. Other times--and this novel is one of those times--not knowing for sure is what keeps readers turning the pages.
While the story is generally creative and engaging, some of the situations do lean towards predictable. For example, when their old car finally gives up, the siblings resign themselves to hitchhiking. The scene that follows calls to mind Cynthia Voigt’s classic Homecoming or, more recently, David Arnold’s Mosquitoland. When the driver who eventually pulls over begins to leer at Dee and insists that she sit in the front seat, it doesn’t come as a shock. While it’s certainly important to address the dangers young women face when travelling alone, it somehow felt out of place in this story which, overall, seems aimed at younger junior high audience.
One of the biggest takeaways from this novel is the idea that love and support can come from unexpected places. While Dee and Eddie are abandoned by their father, they encounter numerous other characters willing to help them in both big ways and small: Dee’s former employer; the truck driver who picks them up as they flee from the “creeper”; the border security and police in Canada; Jake, an employee of Aunt Pat’s landscaping business. All of these characters turn up to show Dee and Eddie that, even when they feel alone, they aren’t. It’s a good message to remember in a world that often allows people to forget.
Overall, Hit the Ground Running is a clear, well paced, and engaging read that manages to include lightness, love, and humour in a novel with an overall serious topic. Readers will hope to see more of Dee and Eddie in the future.
Allison Giggey is the teacher librarian at an intermediate school in Prince Edward Island.
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other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.