In 1919, sixteen year old Charlie Feehan is tired of being poor. His father lies in a coffin, his mother is preoccupied with a newborn, and times are hard in Richmond, Australia. The only thing that brings him some excitement is running. When his speed and alacrity catches the eye of an infamous gangster, Squizzy Taylor, Charlie defies his father’s dying wish of staying in school and becomes Squizzy’s courier.
The secret job is exhilarating and brings Charlie the immense feeling of power. He cannot wait to run all over town to deliver liquor, pick up payments owed, and relay messages. The work is fairly easy and Charlie is even allowed to bring his friend, nicknamed Nostrils, on some of the liquor runs. Squizzy seems to favor him and he has yet to come into harm’s way. The best part is that he makes nearly a fortune out of it.
Not everything is wonderful, though. It is only as time passes that Charlie recognizes the major mistake he made when he first accepted the job. It is dangerous and every time he goes to collect debts, he puts his life on the line. The deliveries begin to be riskier and Charlie often ends up in the rougher parts of town. Evading Squizzy’s countless enemies turns out to be severely tricky as well. When one night goes totally wrong, Charlie begins to look at the real meaning behind his employment and must ask himself if more money is truly worth doing something as perilous as being Squizzy’s messenger.
Either way, Charlie wants more out of life. When he is not running for Squizzy, he is training to be a boxer. When that does not work, with the help of his friendly neighbor, he aims to perfect his running and aspires to make a name for himself in the famous Bellarat Mile Race. But Charlie often overlooks the fact that in the real world, not everyone can get a slice of victory.
Robert Newton, author of “Runner”, does a good job staying within the time period of the early 1900s. Squizzy Taylor, along with his rivals that are mentioned in the book, is a real gangster who lived his life surrounded by crime. Newton also uses multiple Australian slang phrases which add to the authenticity of the story. There is a glossary included at the end to help distinguish it all.
Charlie is a very relatable character, as he wants what almost everyone seeks-success, prosperity, and a better life. His eventual hesitance to work for Squizzy portrays him as a young man who has a good heart and only wants the best for his family, even if it means tangling with danger. His relationships with his neighbors, friends, and family depict him as caring and overprotective, which are two traits favored by an audience.
“Runner” will appeal to a wide range of interests as well. There are sports involved, some good humor, a happy ending, and suspense. Although targeted mainly at middle school readers, it is still an intriguing and straightforward read.
At first, this book highlights the idea that life is full of hard labor and that streets are paved with broken glass. But it also romanticizes, for better or worse, the hope that if one keeps running and persists for the finish line, success is not impossible.
Katie Tsui is freshman attending Darien High School. She enjoys reading and is always looking forward to new book recommendations from friends. She likes to travel, paint, and play the piano.