"Kathleen, Please Come Home" is a sympathetic portrait of a 15-year-old from a happy middle-class home who runs away. Mr. O'Dell … can weave a suspenseful tale, and he has done so in his latest novel, which is in large part a young woman's diary.
Romantic and impressionable, Kathleen Winters falls in love with a 17-year-old Mexican illegal alien who, at first sight, reminded her of Don Quixote. Caught with fake identification papers, Ramón is deported. When he tries to return to the United States, he is killed at the border. Who betrayed him to the authorities in the first place? Discovering that it was her mother, Kathleen heads for Tijuana with her friend Sybil.
There is a moving section in the book in which Kathleen's mother, Sara, writes down in her diary her reactions after she realizes that her duaghter has run away. She finds it difficult to understand how her daughter could "continue to doubt that what I did was done only for her health, her happiness, all the days of her future." When Kathleen finally returns home months later, she finds her mother has sold her house and is "somewhere" in the East, following tips from the police as to the whereabouts of her daughter.
"Kathleen, Please Come Home" is unsettling in a number of ways. A fast-paced story chock-full of adventures and "colorful" characters, it seems to have all the trappings of a made-for-television movie. There are the unsavory types in San Diego (Kathleen's hometown) who prey on illegal Mexican aliens and the parents of runaways. Sybil is an inveterate drug user and would-be heroin pusher…. Curiously, Mr. O'Dell has chosen to present every one of the drugs as having favorable effects on Kathleen. What she got from her first taste—literally—of PCP was "a heavenly moment that seemed to last a million, million years" and a headache afterward….
Mr. O'Dell's book offers few insights on the subject of runaways. Kids in flight seem merely a vehicle for a readable book.
Margarett Loke "Splitting Is Hard," in The New York Times Book Review, April 30, 1978, p. 53.∗