cover image Spy Runner

Spy Runner

Eugene Yelchin. Holt, $17.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-250-12081-6

As Americans are told to do their part against Communism during the cold war, 12-year-old Jake McCauley is called to action after his mother invites a Russian boarder to rent his father’s attic office. Jake sees his mother’s choice as the ultimate betrayal, given that his father has been MIA from the U.S. Air Force since “the old war, the big one, the one with the Nazis.” Jake is certain that the boarder, Mr. Shubin, is hiding something, and he'll stop at nothing to uncover the Russian’s secrets—even if they’re closer to home than Jake ever could have imagined. Yelchin, a Russian-born author and artist, expertly deploys subtle hints about Shubin’s ties to Jake’s family, foreshadowing the impending reveal, but some details may seem obscure to readers at the young end of the stated range (when Shubin first arrives, Jake returns home to find his mother, shoes and purse abandoned, “barefoot, laughing, her hair a mess”). Steeped in the paranoia and propaganda of the era, the noir tale draws parallels to the current political and social climate, nationalistic prejudices, and media-disseminated misinformation. Black-and-white pixelated images, like a trench coat–clad man’s reflection in a shined shoe, add to the sense of time and place while challenging readers to question both their validity and Jake’s suspicion of Mr. Shubin. Well-plotted and -paced, Yelchin’s thriller will be a favorite among readers who have an interest in history and intrigue. Ages 8–12. [em]Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Feb.) [/em]