cover image Runner


Robert Newton, . . Knopf, $15.99 (209pp) ISBN 978-0-375-83744-9

A ustralian author Newton's touching coming-of-age story starring 16-year-old Charlie Feehan is set in 1919 Melbourne. After his father's death, Charlie still wears knickerbockers at school, “but once the lessons were over, I returned home and stepped into the long pants of adulthood.” Responsible for caring for his impoverished family, Charlie runs several miles nightly, in an effort to cast off the inescapable cold at home (“To be poor was to be cold. The two were the same”). Charlie's speed attracts the attention of local crime boss Squizzy Taylor who offers him a job as a runner, delivering goods and collecting payments. Though Charlie's mother forbids him from accepting the position, he skips school to take the job. However, he eventually discovers that Squizzy's world is far too dangerous. When Charlie's friend and fellow runner, Norman “Nostrils” Heath, is crippled by a gang attack, Charlie, paralyzed by fear, is unable to come to his friend's defense. Charlie's neighbor, Mr. Redman, offers to train him for the big Bellarat Mile Race, and Charlie sees this as his best opportunity for redemption. The youth's growing friendship with Nostrils is especially tender, as is a subplot centering on a nascent romantic interest. Newton's writing teems with bright, engaging dialogue, a compelling historical setting and fully developed characters; this outing should easily win him U.S. fans. Ages 10–up. (Apr.)