By Julia Donaldson
Published by Egmont
ISBN 978 1 4052 2233 4
Best known for her worldwide hit picture books about The Gruffalo, Julia Donaldson takes a firm step into the world of youth fiction with this issues-led chase thriller. Running On The Cracks is about as far from the celebrated children's writer's past work as is possible.
Running On The Cracks is a no-nonsense story of a 15-year-old girl running away from her past and a 13-year-old boy running into trouble. Leo and Finlay are an unlikely pair of soulmates, but they see something in each other and hold onto it tightly, much to the advantage of each.
Leo (short for her mouthful of a name, Leonora Watts-Chan) has lived with her aunt and uncle and two unpleasant cousins since the sudden death of her musician parents. She has to get away from her spiteful cousins and her uncle's disturbing behaviour, but she has no idea what awaits her.
Leo's father was Chinese, and his family cut all contact when he married an English woman. When her parents are killed in a plane crash, Leo runs to Glasgow, the Scottish city where her father's family lives. She wants to know the real reason for the feud between her dad and his family.
Arriving all alone in the middle of a threateningly hostile city, Leo is befriended by Mary, a lonely manic-depressive who offers her a temporary home. Soon other Glasgow characters move into Leo's life, providing help and hindrance. One young man who really wants to help is Finlay, but he has his own problems.
Finlay can never get anything right, either at home or at school, but with his new friend Leo he finds a new and positive side to life. He quickly becomes involved in Leo's search for her Chinese family and gets to know Mary and her gang of hangers-on from the local mental hospital.
Running On The Cracks has been carefully researched in terms of the social issues it throws up and the lives of people in Glasgow's Chinese community. The book is about friendship, having a dream and searching for second chances.
There's a lot going on here, but Donaldson manages to keep the chase at the forefront. Leo is pursued by her creepy Uncle John who is determined to take her back home. Every thriller should have a boo-hiss villain, and Uncle John fits this role very well.
Running On The Cracks is not tied up with a sudden sentimental ending. Leo is left with hope for the future - the only thing she's wanted since her life was hit by tragedy.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com