Thursday, June 16, 2016

Review: The Unintended Runaways by Sally Barlow-Perez

Four Children and Their Long Journey Home
by Sally Barlow-Perez
Foretoken Press
Middle Grade Historical Fiction
152 pages

For a girl who loved adventure, twelve-year old Lia Leonides had the perfect life. Every summer, she and her grandfather traveled the rural roads of England in their gypsy wagon, stopping at fairs and selling horse brasses along the way. It was exactly the life Lia wanted, until the day a mysterious letter arrived. Lia’s grandfather warned her not to get her hopes up, but lifelong dreams are hard to ignore. Lia’s father was alive and looking for her. But when her grandfather suddenly passes away, Lia is sent to work as a servant in an orphanage and is left with a choice that she never wanted to make: let the world decide her future for her, or run away and decide it for herself? Lia, with the help of her beloved pets and some unexpected friends, must take her gypsy wagon south on a harrowing journey before her father disappears forever. A persistent sheriff and the constant threat of misfortune won’t make the trip easy, but Lia and her friends don’t plan to let anything stop them from forging their own destinies.


This book is proof that historical fiction isn't dull or drab but can be packed full of adventure, friendship and fun.

When Lia's grandfather unexpectedly dies on the road during one of their journeys in his blue wagon, she's stuck into an orphanage despite her claims to have family. Since she'd theoretically too 'old' to be an orphan at 12, she must work for her keep. It's not a nice situation, but Lia isn't a rebellious type. When fate leaves her outside of the institutions walls--where she isn't allowed--she decides to steal back her wagon and run.

This is an easy read, which glides through the plot at a nice pace. Lia's situation and her never-give-up attitude are heart-warming and make her an easy character to like. Her love for her animals adds a lovely touch as do the thoughts and memories of her beloved grandfather. There's a lot of emotion and caring, which make this simply a joy to read.

When Lia teams up with three brothers, the adventures really kick in. The dangers and trials they cross are very realistic and leave the reader on the edge of their seat. Surviving and getting through might involve a little luck, but usually their own wit, determination and trust bring them through. This alone is a great message for this age group. The values of friendship, trust and hope stay in center light as the kids head from one difficult and exciting adventure into the next, always battling for their freedom.

The writing is well done. Descriptions are just enough to picture what's going on, while leaving action and characters in the forefront. This is told in third person from Lia's point of view. Once I started reading, I was drawn in and couldn't put it down until the very end.

Summed up, this is a lovely read for kids, packed full of the kind of adventure which will have them dreaming of heading off on their own and over-coming the world in the process.

And here she is. . .

Sally Barlow-Perez openly admits that books have taken over a good chunk of her life. She gobbles down two or three library books a week, ranging in genre from young adult, to middle grade, to fantasy, to mystery. She tries to balance her book obsession with writing, hiking, and hanging out with the young people who inspire her. But no matter how hard she tries, she always comes back to books. As a fiction writer, Sally’s focus is curiosity. “Curiosity is a great excuse for writing, as well as for reading,” she says. “Even when I finish a book, I still wonder what the characters are doing!” Sally makes her life in Palo Alto, California. She has two grown sons, whom she believes to be her greatest contribution to mankind. The Unintended Runaways is her first middle-grade novel.

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