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Retro Reading: Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway by Dalene Young

Updated on November 7, 2014

A Runaway Tale for the ages

If you're old enough to remember the mid 1970's, you probably remember the "controversial" movies of the week the major networks would air.

When I was 13, Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway first aired in September of 1976 and I remembered the movie showed the dangers of being a runaway. It scared me.

Even though the movie was a smash hit, it was novelized and while I remember reading it after the movie I never really thought too much about the book. A couple of years ago I was having a flashback to those innocent days o youth and started to search for the book. Luckily I found it online.

Since the book is basically written from the teleplay, there really aren't many surprises.

The story revolves around Dawn Wetherby, a 15 year old who wants to fit in with the kids at school. Holding her back is her alcoholic mother and younger brothers (who she'd do anything for) but she's tired of her mother making excuses for herself. All she really wants is a normal family life.

While her mother won't let her date she sneaks out to a school dance. When her mother finds out she goes to the school and causes an embarrassing scene for Dawn. The next day Dawn packs her things heading to Hollywood.

With only a few dollars she quickly finds out about life on the street. She finds herself bathing in the library restroom and sleeping on benches. Alone, hungry and sick she meets Alexander Duncan and he takes her back to his apartment so she can get some rest.

Hesitant at first she agrees and ends up living with him. Dawn isn't sure how he's managing to live on his own since he's underage as well. He tells her that he has a job working at a liquor store and one night she follows him only to discover him working the streets as a male prostitute.

Later she runs into Frankie Lee, another teenage prostitute she met a few days earlier. Dawn seems to think this would be a good way to make a lot of money so she tries it by herself. Without much luck she agrees to meet Frankie Lee's pimp Swan. The only thing Dawn wants is some money but doesn't realize the dangerous world she's getting into.

As Dawn works for the ruthless Swan, she begins to change. She has fallen in love with Alexander but has become one of Swan's puppets. Alexander tries to get her off of the streets but she won't have it. The all mighty dollar has spoken and she has the independence she's been craving.

After an arrest and learning of a murder Dawn still won't give up even though Alexander's trying everything under the sun to help her. He goes "straight" by getting a regular job with the help of her probation officer, Donald Umber, all the while she pushes away under Swan's influence.

While the movie might pop up every now and again the book is pretty easy to find online and not at a high price. It does follow the movie so if you're familiar with the movie the book should bring back some of those memories.

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