For me, "The Quarry Bank Runaways: The Journey to London of Thomas Priestly and Joseph Sefton in 1806", is initially reminiscent of Mark Twain’s, "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer", and, "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn". Even later on in the story it’s still reminiscent of Twain, in that on the surface it’s about two runaways evading ‘bad people’ who could and would swindle them—or worse, send them back to the Mill—while also meeting ‘good people’ who help them in times of need as well as showing them that not all people are bad and some families are ‘normal’ even though they, too, are poor. But there’s also the undercurrent of a much bigger picture going on: The egregious practice of the indentured servitude of children—otherwise known as slavery. Griffiths didn’t sugarcoat it and I applaud him for that.
Traveling back in time to visit a corner of this world so vibrantly described was an absolute pleasure to experience. The descriptions of everything: the land, history, people, socioeconomic backgrounds and lifestyles, even the food, were a delightful decadence. I was mesmerized by the rich and colorful dialect woven into the characters’ dialogue. Some of it reminded me of the Gullah language. Example: “Ah” for “I”. I also took note of, and enjoyed, the subtle changes in regional dialects of the various characters.
The historical aspects, which I suspect were heavily researched by Griffiths—and probably born from impassioned heartstrings—added credibility to the story, capturing the accuracy of our shameful, not-so-ancient past while also maintaining the stunning and quintessential essence of young Joe’s and Tommy’s journey.
I reached a point where I clung to Joe’s and Tom’s adventurous voyage across the countryside and rolling hills to reunite with their mothers—a delicate reality I can relate to, though my own mother is much farther away from me than London. I rooted for them to make it, became a tagalong in their legging journey.
But let us not forget one moral interpretation of, "The Quarry Bank Runaways"; a story of the born elite vs. the born downtrodden. And though many conditions and circumstances have changed, certainly improved… how far have we really come in bettering the lives of those born silver-spoonless?
This novel glimpses into a past that for all practical purposes can best be defined as human agony designed by ‘the haves’ (those with wealth and status) who then wield it upon the ‘have-nots’ (the vast majority of human civilization). Why was there a differentiating spoon? Why is there still one today? Why is it still our division? Though we’ve come a long way from the widespread practice of indentured servitude of children and the poor, it does still occur, proving we still have far to go—still on our journey—before human civilization can call itself civil and truly altruistic.