And Then I Read: WILLIAM S. AND THE GREAT ESCAPE by Zilpha Keatley Snyder


© Zilpha Keatley Snyder, illustration © David Frankland.

I’ve been enjoying books by Snyder for decades, and this one is no exception. Unlike some of her work where fantasy is an element, this novel is about a troubled family in the real world.

William Baggett is a very bright boy living in almost impossible circumstances, with a father, stepmother and older brothers who are all mean, cretinous, drunken louts who enjoy tormenting William and his younger siblings. Their mother died some years ago, and for a time the two youngest children went to live with their mother’s sister, Aunt Fiona, until their father came to bring them back home. He has no use for young children, but enjoys the welfare money they earn him. William has secretly been collecting “running away” money for some time, but never had the nerve to try it. Then matters come to a head when his sister Jancy’s pet guinea pig is flushed down the toilet. She demands that they run away NOW.

And somehow they manage it, the four youngest Baggetts, sneaking out in the middle of the night, towing their smallest brother in a kiddie wagon because he’s so hard to wake up. They make it into town, but then get spotted by an older girl, Clarice, who insists they come in and hide in her basement. Clarice’s parents are rich, but seldom home, and she’s lonely. The four runaways are perfect company, especially the talented William, who puts on shows for her. She feeds them, but has no intention of letting them go on their way. Meanwhile, Aunt Fiona, knowing nothing of the plan, is visited by the hateful older Baggetts, who ransack her home looking for the missing children. Before long William realizes they must now escape again! But what will happen at Aunt Fiona’s if they do reach that distant goal?

Snyder’s stories are always well-thought out, and her characters interesting and real. William, with his obsession with acting and Shakespeare, Jancy’s stubborn courage, even Clarice’s selfish helpfulness all seem right on target. And the story doesn’t lack for drama, as there are plenty of close calls when the children are nearly discovered on their oddysey. A fine family story, and recommended.

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