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Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 10 years, 7 months ago

13 February 2005 RUNNER by Carl Deuker, Houghton Mifflin, May 2005, ISBN: 0-618-54298-1


"I was out of my league. The people I was dealing with were criminals. Big-time criminals. Million-dollar criminals. I didn't see them, but that didn't mean they didn't see me. I had to be very careful. And as soon as I could, I had to get out."


When high school senior Chance Taylor was a little kid his dad fought in the first Gulf War before getting booted out of the military. Now his dad is a down-and-out alcoholic with nothing but hollowed-out dreams in his pockets.


"He's not like drunk fathers in books. They're always no-good bastards who even beat their kids and their wives. My dad never hit me; never yelled at me. He was just a drunk."


Irregardless, his mom got a divorce when Chance was in sixth grade and eventually disappears from Chance's life. Since the divorce Chance and his dad have lived on their sailboat, the Tiny Dancer, which is moored in a marina in Seattle.


"When kids hear I live on a boat, they picture a floating mansion outlined with strings of white Christmas lights like the one in the old movie Sleepless in Seattle. They think I sit on the deck under an umbrella while waves gently lap up against the sides, foghorns sound in the distance, and exotic seabirds fly overhead. But I don't live on any floating mansion; the Tiny Dancer is an old, weather-beaten thirty-foot sailboat. The paint is blistered and peeling. Barnacles and seaweed cling fore and aft. Before she could sail anywhere, she'd need to be hauled out and completely gone over, but that costs money and lots of it."


And money is in short supply. Sometimes Chance's dad works. Other times he doesn't. When his dad suddenly goes for weeks without working, the monthly mooring fee is left unpaid and Chance knows that in the long run the boat will be confiscated by the marina and sold to cover the bill.


Chance scrubs pots on weekends at a restaurant. But two shifts at eight dollars an hour--before taxes--won't cover much of anything.


"Rich man can ride,

And the hobo he can drown."

--Elton John, "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters"


At school Chance sits through class after class disconnected from what is going on, knowing he can't take care of those unpaid bills, no less think about college. A few days after a former student at the school returns in uniform to give Chance's history class the patriotic spiel about joining the military, Chance responds angrily to his teacher's reading of the Gettysburg Address by characterizing it as "a bunch of crap." Pressed by the teacher to justify his statement, Chance declares,


" 'Okay, this is what I mean. It isn't the rich kids getting killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, is it? It's not government of the people. It's government of the rich people. The poor get screwed over from the day they're born to the day they die.' "


Then Chance is presented a way out of his cash flow problems when one of the marina employees takes him aside and offers him an opportunity to earn some easy money by participating in clandestine activities about which Chance is not permitted to ask any questions. With his back to the financial wall, Chance reluctantly agrees to take the job and the money.


Chance's enlistment and participation in the secret operation draws striking parallels with the military's recruiting and operating methods. When Chance threatens insubordination the man who has recruited him makes it clear that they could both "end up in body bags."


But what are the options for a poor kid in America?


"We're poorer than the Socs and the middle class. I reckon we're wilder, too. Not like the Socs, who jump greasers and wreck houses and throw beer blasts for kicks, and get editorials in the paper for being a public disgrace one day and an asset to society the next. Greasers are almost like hoods; we steal things and drive old souped-up cars and hold up gas stations and have a gang fight once in a while."

--Ponyboy from THE OUTSIDERS by S.E. Hinton, (1967)


"For the next half hour, they talked about colleges. One place was great for pre-law while another had a fantastic biology program. Some other place had a sister school in Istanbul and another one had a junior-year program in Paris. Most of the schools they mentioned I'd never heard of. Occasionally Melissa would look over at me and smile. "I'd always thought that if I had a few bucks in my pocket, I'd be even with kids like Melissa and Thomas and Annie and Natasha. Now I had money, probably more money than anyone else at the table, but it didn't even things up at all. They were still them, and I was still me."

--Chance Taylor from RUNNER by Carl Deuker, (2005)


Amidst of the mystery, tension, and danger that surround Chance's involvement, there is the rich girl Melissa Watts--a latter day Cherry Valance--who is interested in Chance. They used to be the best two runners in school. Melissa's curiosity (She's the editor of the school paper rather than a cheerleader.) could endanger her as well.


"The slightest noise in the night and I'd instantly be wide awake, wondering, Is it them? Are they coming for me?"


RUNNER is a start-to-finish thriller with a resolution that is guaranteed to be controversial.


Richie Partington



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