When I saw this re-release on Netgalley, I was immediately drawn by the premise and the author.
Leo’s world has been turned upside down. Her parents are gone and her bird-loving uncle is getting too close for comfort. She is only sure of one thing: she must get out. In a desperate bid to find the grandparents she never knew, Leo jumps on a train to Glasgow, penniless and stealing food to survive.
Poor Leo is in a hard place – half Chinese, she has no idea about her father’s family apart from a handful of stories he used to tell her, but when she decides that living with her aunt and uncle becomes impossible, she decides to run away. This could have been a dire tale of exploitation and abandonment, but from its rather grim beginnings, Donaldson manages to weave a warm, yet realistic tale featuring those people who have fallen through society’s cracks.
Leo isn’t the only young protagonist – Finlay, who is permanently at loggerheads with his parents as he goes through his Goth period, also features in this tale and provides a fair amount of the light relief. Although it deals with some fairly gnarly subjects like what happens to youngsters when their family circumstances become unbearable, mental illness and family feuds, there is also a lot of humour in this warm-hearted, thoughtful story.
For a start, there are some episodes that descend into almost farce – I kept thinking that it would make a marvellous TV programme as I read about the chase through the market, or Marina’s manic attempts to make tea. But there is also an undercurrent of danger as Leo is also being tracked by someone who doesn’t want to let her go…
Leo is a sympathetic protagonist who is struggling to cope with a terrible loss and not having very much support. I did wonder if she wouldn’t be going to a bereavement counsellor and she most definitely would have a social worker assigned to her case, but I can believe that she may well not see her often enough if it was decided that she was settling in just fine. I also loved Marina, whose kindness means that Leo isn’t left to fend for herself on the streets – but I’m aware that I am seeing her through adult eyes and I’d be curious to know what a child would make of her.
I found this adventure an engrossing read and while I felt that the pacing at the end became a little rushed and that the final resolution was just a bit too tidy, overall I think this is a highly readable book that raises some important questions about those who often become invisible in our society.
While I obtained the arc of Running on the Cracks from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.