The Runaways and the Everlasting

The Runaways and the Everlasting was first published in 2014 and is Monifa Anderson’s debut novel. It is a horror story that focuses on a group of teenagers who are forced into a deadly game by an all-powerful enemy. The novel stands alone, so you don’t have to read any of the author’s other work to fully appreciate it.

Mariah is sick of her home life. Her father ran off with a younger woman and her mother seems to blame this on her. When she meets Kitch online, she knows that she finally has a chance to escape. Kitch belongs to a group of runaways who have made a home for themselves on the outskirts of London and he’s keen for Mariah to join them.

Mariah heads to meet him and is happy to discover that he’s not some elderly pervert. The Runaways do exist and live quite comfortably together, even though they have all fled from hostile home lives. Although Mariah instantly feels welcome, this is unfortunately short-lived. When one of the Runaways discovers a gold coin in the bathroom, they set off on a treasure hunt in search of more.

Unfortunately, this soon leads the Runaways into danger. The coins were hidden by an ancient and heartless race called the Everlasting and now the Runaways have caught their attention. The Everlasting love to be entertained and so pitch them into a high-stakes game against another team. The losing team will all be killed but the winners will be transformed into Everlasting and lose their humanity. It’s a horrible situation but the Runaways have no choice to play. Their only hope is to find some way to turn the situation to their favour…

I sometimes don’t think that readers appreciate how hard writing a novel is. It should go without saying, as it takes a lot of work to create a world that draws readers in. With this in mind, I should probably note that Anderson was only sixteen years old when she published this novel. Really, that’s a staggering achievement and I hope that she’s proud of herself. Seriously, she’s done something that very few people her age could do.

It really pains me that I can’t give this book a more positive review. While Anderson’s writing style is crisp and easy to read, I have a lot of issues with her plot, structure and characterisation. However, before I talk about this further, I feel that I should probably give my traditional words of warning.

The Runaways and the Everlasting is marketed as a young adult novel, but I still felt as though it contained a number of themes that readers could find upsetting. These included the likes of gun violence, eating disorders and implied sexual abuse. In addition to this, there is a lot of bad language and some pretty frank conversations about sex. If you’re planning on gifting this book to a younger reader, you should certainly flip through it yourself first.

The most interesting thing about Anderson’s story was its world-building. I really did like the idea of the Everlasting, in particular their relationship with the Jester Clans. These were families of normal humans who dedicated their lives to doing dangerous things to entertain the Everlasting, as the Everlasting have a tendency to shower people they like with gold and jewels.

This could have made for an interesting focus for the story but unfortunately Anderson didn’t really make enough of it. We don’t learn much more about the Everlasting than this, and we see very little of the Jester Clans. Most of what we do learn is exposited by Myst – a former member of a Jester Clan – and even he does not seem to know that much. The Everlasting are immortal, magical and without conscience. We learn how a person can become one of them, but we don’t ever learn how they came to be, what they truly are, or if they have any weaknesses.

The plot of The Runaways and the Everlasting hinges on coincidence and convenience. To enjoy the novel, you really have to be able to suspend all disbelief. How can a bunch of runaway teenagers manage to maintain such decent standards of living, including electricity and hot water, when they have to steal food to eat? How did the Everlasting manage to plant their gold in the Runaways’ hideout without knowing that Myst was there? How did a group of teenagers manage to carry a coffin, complete with corpse, across central London in the middle of the day? I think that the inexperience of the author shows most clearly in the fact that her plot doesn’t really hold together under scrutiny.

The narrative is also sometimes a little hard to follow. While it is generally told in third person from the perspective of Mariah, this sometimes abruptly flips between paragraphs to follow a different character. I personally found this to be a bit jarring and didn’t feel that it added much to the story. I also really didn’t like the ending. The novel just cut off after the climax and was wrapped up by a page and a half of epilogue, which provided a Stand By Me style run down of a what became of each survivor. This felt very weak.

Yet my biggest issue with the novel was its characters. Primarily, the fact that I didn’t like any of them. I just found it impossible to relate with or sympathise with them. Despite that fact that the book was written by a teenager, the characters don’t feel much like teens. They’re completely self-sufficient, have great sex, and hardly blink when put in a situation where they have to kill another teenager. At one point Mariah even comments that holding a gun makes her feel more powerful, and she’s supposed to be the nice character.

Then there is the issue of the characters’ backstories. Every Runaway has a tragic past that they’re running from, but most of these are really just used for shock value. The fact that one character’s brother is a serial killer is just dropped into conversation once and then never mentioned again. Worse still are the girls. One character in this novel is bulimic and another was abused by her father. Neither of these things form the basis of any kind of character arc for them, they are just simply used to shock the reader.

Yet the thing that I hated most of all was Kitch. Kitch is violent and abusive. He proves that he will beat other boys to bloody pulps if they even look at Mariah. Let’s also note here that he’s been talking to Mariah online for six months but has only know her for a matter of days. For some reason, Mariah seems to think that Kitch’s childish behaviour is charming. While she does sometime chide him, she still frequently professes her love for the vicious douche bag. Early chapters try to establish a love triangle between Kitch, Maria and Myst but this never really goes anywhere. Personally, I think that Mariah would have been much better off with Myst.

So, I think I’ve made my point. All in all, The Runaways and the Everlasting just wasn’t for me. The plot and characters have some really severe issues that prevented me from enjoying the story. However, Anderson was very young when she wrote this novel and, for her age, her writing does show promise. I’ll be very curious to see where her career takes her in the next few years.

The Runaways and the Everlasting can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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