Clark tells the story of a resourceful runaway in this debut YA novel.
Danny Ockham’s family lives a nomadic life, drifting around the Arizona high desert, sleeping in campgrounds as his alcoholic father looks for work. Thing are more or less bearable until his mother escapes without him, leaving him to contend with the full brunt of his father’s abuse. When his dad gets arrested after accidentally starting a brush fire, 13-year-old Danny takes the opportunity to strike out on his own: “I did not sleep that night; couldn’t find a good spot, no food, and firefighter planes flying around. About dawn, the fire was far away…I snuck down to the creek above where Dad had burned the junk, got some water, washed up and headed up stream.” On his own for the first time, Danny must learn the skills necessary for survival in an unforgiving landscape: foraging, hunting, scavenging, and evading the dangers—human and otherwise—that threaten his safety. Possessed of a resilience formed by his already rough life, Danny manages to make his way on his own terms. He is so successful that when he is presented with the opportunity to return to normal society—maybe even to see his mom again—he faces a difficult choice. Clark’s narration of Danny is direct, simple, and endearing (“On the second try I snagged a small bass for supper. Then, at noon, when the store was busy, I bought some Dinty Stew in the metal can, $3.59. The chocolate bars sure looked good”). Despite its lack of polish and very basic storytelling, the book is genuinely captivating from the beginning, and though Danny is not a character of tremendous introspection, he invites a real emotional investment from the reader. Huck Finn is an obvious comparison, though this tale is not so knowingly constructed. Rather, it reads like an earnest account from a runaway. It’s a short book at only 115 pages, and though Danny’s suggestion of a sequel is handled clumsily, the reader should nonetheless be glad to hear the news.
A quick, enjoyable novel about a teen fugitive scraping by in Arizona.