Sunday, August 16, 2009

Runaway Devil by Robert Remington and Sherri Zickefoose

Runaway Devil is the true story of a 12-year-old girl, JR, and her 23-year-old boyfriend, Jeremy Steinke, who murdered her parents and younger brother in Medicine Hat, Alberta. JR "would become the youngest Canadian convicted of multiple homicide and one of the youngest females anywhere to commit familicide, the annihilation of one's entire family." In this book, Remington and Zickefoose, both of the Calgary Herald, examine the evidence and reveal how it all came together in a bizarre story of young love gone seriously awry.

I usually follow news stories like this one. It's like a bad traffic accident you just can't look away from. However, I hadn't heard of this horrific crime before I picked up the book. In fact, not knowing about it was the main reason I wanted to read the book.

Overall, I found the story fascinating. The crime, the criminals, the victims, the whole "goth" world. All of this made it a remarkable read. However, parts were rather dry, especially the sections where the authors described photos or contents of social networking sites pages of JR, Jeremy and the others. I can appreciate that this information was crucial to the story and needed to be included, however, it just didn't come across as exciting reading material. I'm sure the authors did the best they could; I honestly can't think of a better way to present it. The book got better, though, and my interest in it picked up dramatically with the questioning and subsequent trials of JR and Jeremy.

Several photos were included to accompany the text. While they were nice to have, I couldn't figure out why a few of them (photo of the old furniture on the deck at Jeremy's trailer, photos of Grant and Jordan) were included. Granted the authors were limited in that they couldn't show the photos of the majority of the players (JR and her family), but the ones mentioned above didn't add anything to the story for me.

The story of Runaway Devil and Souleater (JR and Jeremy's online personas respectively) was incredible. However, I found it hard to believe that JR and Jeremy didn't know each other's ages. While age becomes a taboo subject among adults, I don't think that's the case with teens. JR lied about her age online, but her close friends must have known what her true age was. Don't teenagers talk to each other? JR's parents were against older guys calling the house for her. I would have thought one of them might have said, "Look, she's only 12." before telling them not to call again. Anyway, we just have their word for what they knew and the two of them did not exactly exemplify trustworthiness. We know that at least one of them was lying about who killed Jacob, JR's younger brother.

The other thing that I found hard to fathom about the story was how a 12-year-old was able to manipulate an adult, a 23-year-old adult, to the point where he was willing to kill for her. Jeremy was desperately seeking acceptance from someone. It's kind of sad that he couldn't find that in someone his own age.

Because JR was a juvenile offender under the age of 18, Canada's Youth Criminal Justice Act was suppose to provide her with anonymity. However, that act doesn't account for the internet. At least not yet. It took me less than 5 minutes to find JR's full name as well as numerous photos of her online. The authors did what they could to comply with Canada's legal restrictions and detailed their efforts in the author's note at the beginning of the book. Maybe one day the laws will catch up with the changing world.

After JR finishes serving her sentence, what will happen to her? Will she be reformed? I didn't get the impression that she fully understands what she's done. Will she get it when she's older? If not, God help us all. As for her sentence, there's got to be a better way to deal with young offenders who commit horrendous crimes. I'll leave all other comments about the law to the pundits.

Recommended. I don't have children, but I can't imagine having a teenage daughter (or son for that matter) and not being scared or a little uneasy after reading this book.

This review can also be viewed on Edwards Magazine Bookclub website.

For more information about this book, please visit or the Runaway Devil website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at Edwards Magazine Bookclub for this review copy.

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