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Literature / The Runaways

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The Runaways is a children's novel by English author Ruth Thomas, published in 1987.

Julia and Nathan are eleven-year-old outcasts openly hated by all their classmates. They also hate each other until the circumstances and a huge secret make them start an Odd Friendship.

The plot starts when they find a lot of money in an abandoned house and decide to use part of the money to buy friendship and popularity from the other kids at school. But their sudden popularity arouses the suspicion of the teachers: when the adults start asking them difficult questions about the money and involving their parents, the two kids realize they are in serious trouble. They have no other choice than to take the rest of the money and run away across the country.


  • All of the Other Reindeer: Julia and Nathan never had any friends for most of their lives, and all their classmates openly dislike them.
  • Abusive Parents:
    • Julia's mother openly considers Julia a disappointment, constantly insulting and belittling her. But she is not a one-dimensional monster since a few scenes show that she loves Julia deep down, despite her low opinion of her daughter and the way she treats her.
    • Nathan's father is implied to be cold and physically abusive, and Nathan is quite scared of him. But we don't know much about him because he is Out of Focus compared to Julia's mother.
  • Badass Bookworm: Nathan is an avid reader and book lover. He's also strong, brave, and adventurous. Even in the first chapter, where he's mostly a nuisance, he can hold his own in fights.
  • Black and Nerdy: Downplayed with Nathan. He's a black bookworm with glasses and No Social Skills, and is bad at sports. But instead of being a shy Lovable Nerd, he's aggressive and violent, disrespects his teachers, and gets in trouble at school.
  • Book Dumb: Julia can't even read, but frequently reveals herself to be quite smart throughout the book.
  • Boyish Short Hair: Julia in later chapters. She disguises herself as a boy in order not to be recognized, since the police officers are pursuing her and Nathan.
  • Character Development: The book explores the main characters's deveopment very well. Both kids start to reveal their good side very slowly, and learn to become better people thanks to their friendship, although they remain very flawed and prone to make mistakes, realistically for their age.
  • Dumb Blonde: Subverted with Julia. She's hopeless at school but surprisingly Street Smart and resourceful, and her good ideas turn out to be very useful throughout the journey.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Julia and Nathan go from enemies to Platonic Life-Partners, to the point that Nathan ends up feeling that Julia is the only person in the world he can trust.
  • Hidden Depths: Traveling together, Nathan and Julia spend much of the book finding out each other's hidden depths (Nathan being a Jerk with a Heart of Gold and Julia being Smarter Than She Looks). When one of them screws up, which happens all the time, the other is supportive and helpful.
  • I Just Want to Have Friends: Julia, who has been hated and avoided by everyone her entire life, is a clear case of I Just Want to Be Loved. Nathan also qualifies, even though he claims he Hates Everyone Equally, but deep down wants friends too.
  • Introverted Cat Person: Nathan doesn't get along with people, but has a soft spot for cats.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Nathan, despite his attitude, is a Kindhearted Cat Lover, loves his mother, and becomes a loyal friend to Julia.
    • Julia is an annoying tattletale at school (most of the time, she tattles on Nathan), but she's not a bad person deep down, just deeply lonely, insecure, and desperate. Her closeness to Nathan makes her more likable over time.
  • The Klutz: Julia is definitely a klutz, but not a Cute Clumsy Girl since nobody finds her clumsiness endearing at all.
  • Loser Protagonist: Julia, to an utterly pathetic degree. She's a klutz, an insecure crybaby, Book Dumb to the point of being illiterate, terrible at everything (until her Hidden Depths are revealed), even more bullied and unpopular than Nathan, and considered ugly and useless even by her mother. Compare her to Nathan, who is stronger, faster, braver, more knowledgeable, and a better student than her, and his main flaw is his abrasive personality.
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: Nathan has many brothers and sisters, and feels ignored by his parents because of them. On the other hand, Julia is an only child.
  • Minor Living Alone: Julia and Nathan, after they run away with all the money they found. Initially, they rent a room in Brighton, with the very tall Julia pretending to be older with dresses and makeup. They eventually buy camping tents in some isolated hill in Exmoor.
  • The Napoleon: Nathan is short and has a bad temper.
  • Never Learned to Read: Julia, and she's deeply ashamed of it. She eventually asks Nathan to teach her how to read and he reluctantly agrees.
  • Oh, Crap!: Every time Julia and Nathan realize that a stranger recognised them. Their journey is not easy since they are wanted by the police and their pictures as "missing children" were shown on TV.
  • Only Friend: Nathan and Julia become this to each other. Throughout the journey, they meet a girl named Elizabeth who was very willing to befriend them and join their adventures, but Nathan harshly pushes her away.
  • Picked Last: It always happens to Julia and Nathan when the other kids pick their teammates. Especially Julia, since even Nathan gets picked before her, despite being hated by everyone and terrible at baseball.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: When the kids move to Brighton, Julia starts wearing makeup and nice clothes to disguise herself as an older teenager. For the first time in her life, she sees herself as attractive.
  • The Stool Pigeon: Julia is a tattletale in a desperate attempt to be appreciated by the teacher. It only makes her even more hated, by both teachers and classmates.
  • Tiny Guy, Huge Girl: Nathan is small, while Julian is an awkwardly tall girl.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Nathan frequently insults and makes fun of Julia, even after they become friends. This happens less in later chapters, but they still have their moments.