Review: Runaway, by Steve Simpson

Runaway, by Steve Simpson, is perhaps the worst book I have ever read.

My copy is a third edition but I am frankly surprised it was published at all. It reads like a first draft and doesn’t appear to ever have been edited, or even spell-checked. The writing is extremely crude: sentence fragments abound, tenses change at a moment’s notice, capitalization is weird, spelling and grammatical errors are common, very necessary commas are missing, apostrophes are frequently used incorrectly, and the list goes on.

Runaway‘s text has problems upon problems. “Your” is used instead of “you’re”, “alot” is used instead of “a lot”, “lay” is consistently used where it should be “lie” — and my beloved semicolon is woefully abused. I try not to be the grammar gestapo, but the errors in this text are beyond ridiculous.

Here’s a sample (the ellipses are in the text; I haven’t removed anything):

A house . . . A door . . . A few windows . . . A garage . . . A chimney; all the things that would make for the description of an ordinary house. The house is situated with similar houses making for an ordinary block. It’s just getting dark. All is quiet. Nobody is on the street. Not even the children. It’s dinner time and everybody is home eating with their family. All is very quiet.

The silence is broken! . . .

The side door to one of the houses explodes open. Out bolts a young boy, with tears in his eyes. The boy frantically runs away from the house and away from the block. He runs. A blind run it seems, but he does have a destination.

Aside from his frenzy and tears, there is nothing special about the boy. Average looking, brown hair, brown eyes, very thin and about five-three. He has a slightly boyish face, but that could be due to his emotional state. But surely there is nothing outstanding about him. After running for several minutes he reaches his destination. The town sump. He climbs through the rather large hole in the fence and plops on the grass. Immediately, as if on cue, he puts his face in his hands and hysterically sobs. The boy literally cries for over an hour.

When he stops, he just lies across the grass playing with the weeds, staring at the grass, never once looking up. This too goes on for more than an hour. Finally, the peace is over. A hand appears on the boy’s shoulder. The boy is startled and swallows his breath.

“Relax Steve, it’s only me,” said a boy standing behind him.

He’s very similar to Steve except he is just a shy taller and seems maybe a tad older. The boy sits down next to Steve.

“Happened again, Huh?” asked the boy.

Steve does not answer.

“Well, at least your not bleeding this time,” said the boy.

“This time,” mumbles Steve.

“What’s it over this time?”

“What’s it ever over? She got drunk again . . . and he’s nuts!” answered Steve.

“What’d they tell you this time?” asked the boy.

“I didn’t come down the stairs fast enough. Last time they told me I came down too fast!”

The boy just laughs.

“It’s not funny!” exclaims Steve.

“I know. I was just identifying, that’s all. Relax, hu! I’m Bob, remember? Your friend not your parent.”

“I know! I know! It’s just that I don’t know how much longer I can take this!”

“I hear you. I’m thinking the same thing.”

“But it doesn’t affect you that bad,” said Steve.

“Who said? I’m affected. Just that I don’t show it like you. I just came from spending two and a half hours crying in my attic.”

“Really? Mmm . . . Well, then, what do we do?” asked Steve.

“The only thing we can do, runaway.”

“But, but where, how and with, with what do we . . . ” starts Steve.

“Hey, will you cool it. I’ve got it all worked out. I’ve been thinking about it for a while now. Got it all planned out in my head. But I need a partner. A friend, a brother.” said Bob as he puts his hand on Steve’s shoulder.

Steve smiles. “Well, okay, but promise me one thing.”

“What bro?” asked Bob ever confident.

“Promise you’ll always be there.”

“Promise,” replied Bob laughing. (pp. 3-5)

That was the first two and a half hours spent crying in the attic pages. It starts off pretty badly and gets worse, and I pretty near gave up after the first chapter. Then I flipped through the middle, and it was still bad. Then I read the last chapter and it was just as awful. Then I skimmed the rest, so that I could finish this review.

Even leaving aside the atrocious prose, there is still the matter of the plot. Here’s the basic idea: Steve and Bob run away. Bob is killed in New York City. Steve is initiated into a gang (the “Good Guys Government”) and spends the rest of the book beating up and/or killing other gang members in a quest to avenge Bob’s death. At the end of the book he is rich from the reward money for getting rid of those gang members, and the last pages see him flying “down South” to get married. It ought to be noted that Steve is fourteen years old; his intended is thirteen.

The moral lesson of Runaway? That the road to a better life lies in petty thugdom, vigilante justice, violent shoot-outs, and murder. That “there are no experts at the police department, just drunks and perverts” (p. 105). Steve is supposed to be a great and just hero but he is utterly amoral. It is, in fact, extremely repellant.

Does Runaway have any redeeming qualities? The only possible answer I can give is that, according to the front cover, “A portion of the proceeds of this book will be donated to charity.” That charity is probably the National Runway Switchboard, for which a phone number is given on the back (1-800-621-4000). NRS is an American foundation that supports youths who have or are considering running away. So, that’s good, to be supporting them. But the whole message of the book (ie., “Running away solves all problems!”) maybe counteracts that good as well.

Here’s one more redeeming quality: it’s so bad it becomes absolutely hilarious after you get over the pain. Ladies and gents, Runaway is truly awful. It’s the kind of awful that should be shared out loud with friends and family.

And you can have a copy, too! I got sent two by the publicist and so I have put the extra into my bookmooch inventory. Please, take it away.

8 thoughts on “Review: Runaway, by Steve Simpson

  1. Once I picked up a book to read that was of a similar badness level and I couldn't finish. After two pages I had to stop. So, congratulations on wading through the badness!


  2. This review made me smile. I've never read or even heard of this book but I certainly won't be checking it out now. I respect how you don't hold back saying it's the worst book you've ever read. Sometimes I think reviewers tiptoe around what they really think, and I respect those who say what they think. Then again, if I ever publish my book someday, don't be too hard on me. 😉


  3. Wow. That excerpt is terrible. As I wrote over at Bibliolatrist's site,I think the author probably thought he was simulating the thoughts and flight of the scared kid, but it isn't consistent enough to work. Joyce Carol Oates makes that kind of thing work, even though it can be tough to read, but this guy isn't Oates and isn't pulling it off.Oates also tends to write about kids and adults in tough and ambiguous situations, but she doesn't make the mistake of turning them into heroes.


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