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Running Into Crime


In 1989, Jasmine Bell, a fourteen year old rollerskating runaway survives the streets in Berkeley and San Francisco by means of her wit and courage. Daughter of a Black father and a white mother (who were both killed in an auto accident before the book opens), Jasmine has run away because her uncle George was sexually abusing her, but she leaves behind her cousin Samantha who is too scared to run with her.

Jasmine's life intersects with that of Catherine Meyer (a Jewish investigative journalist who's writing a series of articles on runaways) and with that of her boyfriend, Leroy Banks, a Black man who has just quit his job at a bookstore and is a "self-appointed investigator of reality."

Between the chapters are headlines from the era (including many from the Tiananmen Square protests); Jasmine's letters; entries from her Graffiti Notebook; brief dialogues and entries from both Catherine and Leroy's journals.

Jasmine's, Leroy's and Catherine's stories become increasingly intertwined. Leroy gets a job at a shelter for runaway kids, and Jasmine eventually turns up there. Leroy, Catherine, and Jasmine run into each other while rollerskating in Golden Gate Park, and Jasmine gives Leroy a rollerskating lesson, but when Leroy and Catherine begin to question her, she skates off rapidly. Leroy's Latina supervisor, Carmen Rivera, is a friend of LaVern Coles, Jasmine's former dance teacher, and LaVern has called Catherine about Jasmine because of Catherine's series on runaways in the CHRONICLE. And they are all looking for Jasmine.

Jasmine has run from her aunt's and uncle's home in Oakland to Berkeley where she has been largely on her own. After a couple of disturbing incidents, Jasmine goes to San Francisco where she hooks up with four other kids in a squat: Tiger Dog, Maybelline, Bob Too, and Jabari.

Bob Too idolizes Tiger Dog and gives him his good luck piece, a necklace of a pierced quarter on a leather thong. One day the kids find a gun, and Jasmine declares that she is in charge of it. On a night shortly thereafter, Jasmine sees Uncle George and Samantha in a cafe near the squat though he does not see her. She is terrified that he is looking for her, and she rushes home.

That same night Tiger Dog does not come home at all. He has been out turning tricks. Early the next morning, Jasmine goes out skating looking for him. She finds his tennis shoe near a dumpster. She grabs the shoe, goes closer, and discovers him in the dumpster with his throat slit. She calls the police anonymously and races back to the squat to tell the others. At midnight the next night, the four remaining kids hold a symbolic funeral, burying the tennis shoe in Golden Gate Park, and Jasmine swears she will find Tiger Dog's killer.

Jasmine is enraged, and she and Maybelline dress up and go out to turn tricks. Once in the car with her "john," however, Jasmine tells him to drive into an alley for some privacy. She then pulls out the gun they had found, takes his money, throws his shoes and car keys into the dumpster and races back to her friends. She then decides to go to the CHRONICLE office to see if she can get help investigating Tiger Dog's murder. Coincidentally, she runs into Catherine there, and Catherine offers to help her if she can.

Leroy's supervisor, Carmen Rivera, has a fiftieth birthday party which is a big multi-cultural bash and brings together all the significant adult characters in the book: Leroy and Catherine, Carmen Rivera, LaVern Coles and Wanda Williams and Zev Goldman from New York. Zev is a survivor of The Holocaust. Hoping to gain further insight into her heritage, Catherine makes an appointment with Zev to talk about her grandmother, also a survivor of The Holocaust.

In the meantime, Bob Too has been extorting money from his dad by threatening to expose him as a child molester. Bob Too shows Jasmine his "getaway" money because he feels guilty after seeing her and Maybelline out on the streets. The kids stay at the shelter one night, and Jasmine stays up late and sneaks into the living room to watch "Strangers on a Train" with Leroy and another staff member. She suddenly realizes that Tiger Dog's murder might involve a case of mistaken identity.

Jasmine shares this information with Catherine and also tells her about a man who seems to be following her. Jasmine and Catherine go to Jasmine's neighborhood. The man panics, throws a rock at Jasmine, hits Catherine, and Catherine is able to describe the man to the police.

Soon he is arrested and confesses that he was hired by Bob Too's father who did not want his abuse of his son to become public knowledge. Bob takes the news hard, feeling he caused the murder of his friend. The other kids bring him to the shelter to talk to Leroy. Leroy helps Bob Too who decides to go into foster care temporarily until he can become an emancipated minor and help other kids. Jasmine asks Catherine to adopt her and Jabari. The 1989 Earthquake scares Maybelline, and she decides to go and live with her mother's cousin in New York.

Throughout the novel, Leroy's sister Carla has had to postpone her wedding in San Francisco for various reasons. Now at the end of the novel, the wedding is to take place, Leroy's and Carla's mother flies out from Florida, and Jasmine meets her brand new grandmother.



Last updated November 26,2006