Evelyn Lau – Runaway: Diary of a Street Kid

I am currently taking a course on library services for young adults in which I have been asked to review ten books, so I have decided to post my reviews here too. This is my tenth, and final, review. (You can read other book reviews that I have done here if you really want to.) This book will probably appeal to teens around 15 and up. Topics covered include running away, living on the streets, drugs, prostitution, and suicide. Themes include fighting with others and self and trying to meet goals in the face of adversity. The genre is non-fiction, autobiography. The author is Canadian.

Evelyn Lau, at the age of 14, decides to leave home in order to get away from her repressive parents whose unreasonable expectations are crushing her. She starts off living with friends, but eventually spends most of the next two years in shelters, foster homes, and on the streets. She quickly learns how to make “easy” money through prostitution to support her drug habit. The book is a diary that Lau kept while she was on the streets, and it holds very little back in the descriptions of life on the streets as a teenager. It is very hard to predict whether Lau will survive the experience, or whether this eloquent, though excruciating, book will end with a terse epilogue written by one of her social workers.

This is not an easy read. Lau takes us through every step of her painful spiral into homelessness, drugs, and prostitution. She battles a range of demons — both real and imagined — during her time on the streets, but it is her struggle with herself that is most heartbreaking to witness. “I could become one of the top writers in Canada, or I could be a drug addict, or I could die. Those are the choices.” Young adult readers, who may wonder what it would be like to run away, will certainly get a good taste of the reality of living on the streets. The book works as both a cautionary tale, although readers will likely agree with Lau’s reasons for wanting to escape, and a source of hope for those who are facing similarly desperate odds. This is an important and unique look into the life of a troubled, though highly intelligent, teen and is recommended reading for anyone who wants an inside look into the mind of a young adult on the street.

If I were to use the VOYA scale, I would give it a 3P (moderate appeal) and 4Q (high quality). The heavy nature and graphic detail of this book means that it will not have as wide appeal as some of the lighter books out there, but it is an important addition to any young adult collection.