Review Blog

Aug 16 2019

The runaways by Ulf Stark

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Illus. by Kitty Crowther. Gecko, 2019. ISBN: 9781776572342. 129p
(Age: 9+) Recommended. Kitty Crowther's colour pencil illustrations create low expectations of an outwardly self-published title, but it wasn't long before this reader was teary eyed. Indeed, fan's of Fredrik Backman's A man called Ove will appreciate the humour and pathos behind every grumpy old man.
Grandpa is retired. A ship's engineer, he built his wife a white house, high on an island. The Runaways is a typical inter-generational story where the patriarch and his grandson share a close bond. Of course Grandpa is a blue collar worker while Dad is a white collar type. Dad never makes time to visit his father who broke his leg in a fall, after Grandma's death. To make matters worse, Grandpa makes the hospital staff as miserable as he feels.
But Grandpa remains a strong influence on Gottfried Jnr and the two plan an escape with the help of Adam. Adam is really Ronnie, the freckled baker, but everyone calls him Adam because of his prominent Adam's apple. Adam, a worthy adversary for Grandpa, agrees to help the runaways to catch the ferry and spend one last night in Grandpa's old house. Gottfried conceived a football camp and Grandpa claimed to be visiting Gottfried's father - just so Grandpa can sit in Grandma's chair by the window and understand what she saw.
Metaphysical questions arise about memory and what we each perceive, given our separate memories, experiences and imaginations. Figurative language enchants the reader: 'I held Grandpa's hand and after a while he went to sleep. I looked at him and thought about all the things we'd done together. He looked happy. He snored quietly. It sounded like a ship starting its engines, about to depart.'
Grandma's lingonberry jam, retrieved from his own cellar on the island, inspires Grandpa to live to finish the jar, but the sublime Gottfried has his own quest - convincing Grandpa that there is an afterlife.
Deborah Robins

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