cover image The Runaways

The Runaways

Zilpha Keatley Snyder. Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers, $15.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-385-32599-8

Snyder (The Gypsy Game) pulls off another feat of prestidigitation with this roundly satisfying story set in 1951. Coming from almost anyone else, the plot and cast of characters might sound stale: three smart kids--one resentful of her mother's passivity and bumbling; one neglected and abused by his mother; and one whose parents are too busy for her--decide to run away but then don't need to after all. Snyder, however, can invest her characters with inner resources that are both extreme and believable, and readers will gravitate to her protagonist, 12-year-old Dani O'Donnell, right from the opening scene in a graveyard. There Dani, shaking her fist in the air, vows to move away from the hateful desert town of Rattler Springs, where she and her well-meaning but seemingly inept mother have lived for four years. Her pesky, book-loving younger neighbor, Stormy Arigotti, blackmails Dani into agreeing to take him along, and while they are in the process of raising funds, they meet Pixie Smithson. The preternaturally self-possessed, truth-twisting daughter of a geologist couple doing a short project in Rattler Springs, Pixie soon enlists in the running-away plan too. The trio's strategies for escape are only the most superficial sources of tension here; the deepening view of the children's home lives and Dani's growing affection for Stormy and Pixie prove steadily more engrossing. Even the minor characters here seem to have lives off the page. Ages 8-12. (Mar.)