As I grew up, I went through phases of obsession that I think are pretty common for young readers– I wanted to read everything about the Titanic, I wanted to read about the Dust Bowl or early settlers or Western Expansion, and then everything about the Salem Witch Trials. I went through a phase of only reading diary books (Dear America books were the absolute best because they could combine my history obsessions with the diary format I loved), and across the board, I mostly stuck to books about girls who I could relate to.
As I grew, my reading tastes changed and expanded, though I still find myself going through phases of what I like and what I’ll cast aside. Some months it’s fantasy, other’s its historical or modern or romantic and swoony. There is one category/genre/whatever-you-want-to-call-it that I’ve never grown out of though, and that is the tale of the runaway.
I think that my obsession with this story line began with the Boxcar Children. (It still sort of bugs me that they only lived in the Boxcar for the first book–the rest of the time they were all hunky dory in Grandpa’s house, but whatever.) I loved the idea of “roughing it” (possibly this spoke to my love of the Little House on the Prairie series, particularly Little House in the Big Woods), and of being a kid who could live on their own.
I feel like I should write a short disclaimer that I never had any *need* to run away. I had, as evidenced in earlier blog posts, a pretty happy childhood. But this did nothing to squash my dreams of taking it on the road by myself, perhaps with a trusty pup by my side to protect me from any bad guys.
That being said, after the first Boxcar Children book, I moved on to other novels that told tales of kids on their own, whether they were traveling across America or surviving on the streets of a city. I found tales of gypsy caravans and streetwise con artists equally engaging, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit that many of my imaginary games involved me packing up some kind of hobo bag and hiding out in the woods for an hour or two at a time.
So what books helped fuel my runaway spirit? “The Girl Who Ran Away” (it is literally about a girl who runs away) was an early love–a book from my mother’s childhood that she passed down to me, this is one I wish I could relocate. She lived in a chicken house! Behind her Aunt’s house! I think this tale spoke to me because it was about a girl who lived a perfectly acceptable life but was caught up in the romantic side of being a vagabond.
Then there was the Dicey series, starting with Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt. This book, oh man. Traveling town to town, picnicing in parks and doing odd jobs at grocery stores for a few extra bucks? Sign. Me. Up. This was a sadder version of runaways, a set of young siblings abandoned by their mother, but sad circumstances aside, this adventure was right up my alley.
Then there are the classics, Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell and Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George. While neither girl is an actual “runaway”, they survive off the land and make friends with wild animals, creating tools out of whatever they have, creating some semblance of safety in the wilderness. I still revisit these short, beautiful books whenever the wanderlust of running away strikes me as an adult. They offer the quick fix I need when I’m hankering to pack up a hobo bag and hit the back roads out of town.
This nostalgia is brought to you by my current read, Friday Never Leaving by Vikki Wakefield. When I was perusing my TBR bookshelves the other day, this one jumped out at me–the story of a girl who has spent her life running from town to town with her mother. When her mom succumbs to an aggressive cancer, she finds herself on the streets alone, and ends up joining a gang of street kids in order to continue to survive. So far, I like it–and it stirred up all those old runaway feelings, which inspired me to write this all down.
What about you? Do you have a particular genre or literary theme you find yourself drawn to? Did you go through those phases of historical obsession as a kid? Have you read anything recently that might fit into my runaway genre? Let me know!