Book Review: Runaround by Helen Hemphill

July 31, 2009

Runaround

Sassy is only 11 but she can’t wait to grow up and be noticed by boys. Especially since her older sister Lula seems to attract the kind of attention Sassy wants. She figures if she can convince the best-looking boy in town, Boon Chisolm, to be her boyfriend she will be one up on Lula.

Runaround by Helen Hemphill is a small book that crams in many storylines—in a good way. Set in a tobacco-growing area sometime around the first Surgeon General’s warning against smoking and the beginning of food stamps for the needy, Runaround touches on the plight of farmers of the era and the needy of all time. It harkens back to the days of lazy summers and having a country store down the road kids could walk to and buy groceries on credit.

Sassy and Lula are motherless, and they are cared for by Miss Dallas, a woman who has never had children and who is reluctant to answer Sassy’s questions about love and romance. So Sassy gleans most of her ideas of romance from reading True Confessions magazine, something her Daddy doesn’t approve of. Each chapter of Runaround opens with a quote from what appears to be True Confessions articles, and it’s easy to see how Sassy could get mixed up about love and romance if that’s what she thinks of as the norm.

If I have any reservations about Runaround, it’s that it brings up many issues that it doesn’t address in-depth enough. There are issues of class, sisters hurting and supporting each other, family secrets, and difficulties with family communication. And I thought Sassy’s tantrums were more appropriate for a toddler than an 11-year-old who should be able to control her anger and actions a bit more than she does. But those issues should give mother-daughter book clubs a lot to talk about. I recommend Runaround for book clubs with girls aged ten to thirteen.