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On The Run

Plot Summary

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Fifteen year old John Hanson lives on a wheat ranch in northeastern Oregon. His life is turned upside down after he steals forty dollars from a filling station. The owner, Roy Fletcher, his former employer, owes John forty dollars in back wages. Fletcher comes in, finds John at the cash register and grabs him. John struggles to get away. Fletcher falls back and is knocked out when his head hits the door frame.

Assault during a robbery! A felony if committed by an adult. For John, it means a journey through the juvenile justice system.

John worked at the gas station up on the country road near the ranch for two months before Fletcher let him go. John tries for weeks to collect back wages Fletcher owed him. John needs the money to help his divorced mother. He feels a responsibility to help her solve their family problems. He tries to convince her to leave the ranch, get a job and find them a place of their own. His goal is to earn enough money for pay for the first and last months rent on a house in town.

John, his sister and brother, and their mother live on the ranch owned by her two older brothers. They were ''dropped off ' there by John's father, Johnny, who never returns. The brothers tolerate their presence, even though there has been an earlier dispute over the unsuccessful claim by John's mother to part ownership of the ranch.

John has many reasons to distrust the men in his life, but feels a deep need to find his absent father. Yet his anger at authority figures, especially his uncles and his ex-boss lead John into rash acts.

John wants the judge to understand his reasons for claiming what he sees as rightfully his. The judge accepts Fletcher's version of the incident, but sees John as a delinquent and decides to make an example of him to the young people in sparsely populated Carroll County.

"People will see that we don't put up with that kind of thing here," the judge tells him. He sends John to Fire Oak School for Boys and puts him under the authority of the juvenile justice system for a first offense that might have only earned John probation and counseling in a large city.

John learns to survive at Fire Oak, and tries to avoid troublemakers. He tangles with would-be tough guy Randy, who wants to make his reputation fighting the new kid who has assault on his record. To avoid Randy, John has to align himself with Tony, who believes he's a legend in his own time at Fire Oak, and who is the top of the pecking order in Taylor Cottage. John is thrown together with Pat, a druggy who isn't quite as out of it as he acts.

In addition to working as a tutor in the reading lab and attending classes in Fire Oak's school, John works afternoons in the school library, where he finds a haven

from the tensions of the cottage. The librarian, Mrs. Morgan, a former foster parent, is friendly and understanding, but her job is temporary and she will soon leave. Lucas McGill, John's probation officer, cares but he is limited by the requirements of the system and by lack of a stable situation for John to return to. He works on John's case. Weeks drag on for John and he feels McGill isn't trying. However, John does everything he can to earn his way Up in the point system he has been told will eventually gain him his release. Randy finally traps him into a fight. John loses his points and his hopes for an early release.

When John can't go home to his mother, sister and brother, he hopes his father in Texas will take him. McGill finally locates Johnny, who says he can't take John. McGill sends John to a forest camp which teaches survival skills John puts to unusual use when he figures out how to get the better of the bully Randy.

After he is sent to a repressive group home in a tiny town in the Willamette Valley, John learns his mother has married Norman Ryan, a rancher in a neighboring county. She has left her brothers' ranch without getting in touch with John or leaving a forwarding address or telephone number. John has been concerned about his mother's interest in Ryan, warning her that Ryan will let her down like Johnny, his dad, did. When he learns she has married Ryan, he feels she has deserted him and is devastated. John runs away from the group home, emulating the wanderlust his father is known for. John takes off for the city, determined to survive on the streets of downtown Portland. He is pleased with himself when he finds he can make his own way. He feels he does better than most kids on the street He finds a part time job washing dishes in a diner and stays in a house where street kids are allowed to "crash" for the night.

He finds Pat, his cottage mate from Fire Oak, on the street and on drugs again. Pat figures out John's new boss has been paying him out of the till and pocketing his pay. John learns there is an illegal drug lab upstairs in the house where he has been sleeping and that it is due to be raided by police.

Pat sends him on to Tony, who is in a halfway house John must decide whether he can be a "regular" kid again, going to school and living in a conventional family. He shows new maturity and resolve when he make a workable plan for his future and decides to contact McGill and give himself Up. He finds the home of Mrs. Morgan and her husband. John asks them to take him as a foster son if McGill agrees. They tell him they will consider it, but he must turn himself in that night.

Before he leaves the Morgan's to spend the night in juvenile detention, John is surprised when his mother and new stepfather arrive. John makes the decision to be part of the new family if Norman will accept him.

John faces a hearing the next morning to learn if he will be sent back to Fire Oak, returned to the Morgan house as a foster son or if he will finally get to go to his new home.


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Last updated: May 17, 2002