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Home in Time for Dinner

by Kathryn Ellis

When 15-year-old Chris Ramsay turns on the TV one day, he is shocked to see his own face looking back at him from a digitally aged image of a missing child. It’s a surprising way to discover that his controlling, taciturn father had kidnapped him following a bitter custody battle more than a decade before. Chris decides to embark on a risky journey from his home in Texas to Kingston, Ontario, to find his mother. He’s not running away, he says, but running to.

Author Kathryn Ellis, who wrote for the original Degrassi Junior High television series, crafts a frank tale in which the often exasperatingly naive Chris is schooled in the ways of the world, from the trustworthiness of strangers to the moral ambiguity of lying and stealing to survive. Chris journeys through bus stations, along highways, and into cities, including a detour with a group of squeegee kids in Toronto (a setting that stands out as the only vividly described locale between Dallas and Kingston).

Ellis succeeds in portraying Chris’s development as his confidence builds and he learns to trust his instincts. The ethical dilemmas and hard choices he faces are interesting, and while it soon becomes clear that running away from home isn’t the romantic escapade it’s sometimes portrayed as, the book’s ending is surprisingly optimistic.

However, a constant flow of unnecessary  details, from budgetary minutiae to cumbersome evaluations of routes and schedules, aren’t woven into the story with much ease, blemishing an otherwise well-paced plot. Readers may also be frustrated by the heavy-handed prose and first-person narration, which relies on constant updates about Chris’s emotional state. Maintaining the early 1990s setting, when Ellis began writing the book, also seems like an arbitrary choice that might alienate some readers.

In the end, the story only barely succeeds in overcoming these drawbacks despite an intriguing plot and relatable main character.