The Runaways by Brenda Barnes Clark

The Runaways by Brenda Barnes Clark
Publisher: RBC Books
Genre: Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.), Paranormal, Action/Adventure, Historical
Rating: 5 Stars
Review ed by Astilbe

What if Penny, an abused pony at a 1946 West Virginia county fair, runs away to eleven-year-old Billie Rose Tackett?

What if, through “think-speak,” Penny tells Billie that she was stolen and did not belong to the carnival or the horrible, terrible pony ride keeper? How can Billie prove the theft when no one in their right mind would believe that a horse speaks? In her quest to save Penny, Billie and Penny show amazing courage and tenacity to overcome seemingly impossible, life-threatening situations. In this fast-paced adventure story, Billie grows in confidence as she deals with prejudice, disability, bullying, family loss, compassion, and forgiveness while doing whatever it takes to save the runaway pony.

Empathy makes the world a better place.

The pacing was perfect. I ended up reading far longer than I was intending to because I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the page or wait to see what happened next. There simply wasn’t a good time to take a break. That’s the sort of writing I love to see, and it makes this first-time reader eager to see what Ms. Barnes Clark might come up with next. She couldn’t have made a better first impression with me.

Billie lost some of her hearing as a result of an infection she had as a child. The scenes describing her memories of that illness and how it affected her life as well as the lives of her mother and sister were written beautifully, and I’m saying that as someone who lives with a person who is hard of hearing. It’s rare to find characters who have partial hearing loss but who can still hear certain tones, so I was thrilled to see this topic covered here.

Some of my favorite scenes were the ones that included the mind reading between Billie and Penny. The paranormal elements of their adventures were subtle but unmistakable. That suited these characters nicely, and I enjoyed coming up with my own theories about why they could communicate telepathically. Not everything needs to be fully explained in a tale like this one, especially when there was so much else going on in their lives simultaneously.

I appreciated how descriptive this book was about everything from the physical appearances of the characters to what their homes, barns, gardens, and other settings looked like. The author did a wonderful job of fleshing out the world she was describing, and I found it easy to close my eyes and picture everything in my mind. What made this even better was how seamlessly she included all of the details in the storyline. The pacing of the plot never needed to slow down in order for her to describe all of the little but important details that created such a memorable read.

The Runaways was an exciting adventure that I’d wholeheartedly recommend to adults just as much as to the middle grade audience it was originally intended for!

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