Book Review of Spy Runner
The Children’s Book Review
Written by Eugene Yelchin
Ages 8-11 | 345 pages
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. | ISBN: 978-1-250-12081-6
What to expect: Suspense, Cold War tension, Patriotism, Courage and Intrigue
Jake McCauley is captivated by many of the same types of things that other twelve-year-old boys were captivated by in 1953: comic books, model planes, BB guns, riding bikes, hanging out with his best friend Duane, and watching movies. Like most kids, Jake has learned that the threat of Communism is real and that American democracy must be defended. He becomes even more committed to these ideas as he and Duane devour spy movies and Spy Runner comic books.
Jake knows the cost of defending freedom far better than most kids because his dad was reported missing in action during World War II. He fantasizes about the day when he will rescue his dad from Russia, where Jake presumes he is being held prisoner, and his family will be complete again. Until then, he is content to idolize Duane’s father, Air Force Major Armbruster, who is invited to speak at the school and ride on parade floats—a hometown hero
in the fight against Communism.
Life gets interesting for Jake when his mom decides to rent a room in their attic—which had been his dad’s office—to a Russian man named Shubin. This raises red flags for Jake, who is on high alert for any suspicious activity due to both the real political climate and his obsession with fictional spy stories. Jake tries to do his patriotic duty and prove that Shubin is a spy, but things go from bad to worse when Duane betrays Jake’s secret, and all the kids at school alienate and bully him, branding him a “Commie.” Undeterred, Jake sets out on a mission to uncover Shubin and expose the truth. The result is an adventure far beyond his imagination that will satisfy readers looking for an action-packed adventure of their own.
Although younger readers might have difficulty following the murky plot as this story slowly begins to unfold, those who push through will be rewarded with a fast-paced ride through a period of American history where suspicion and fear were given such a wide berth that they threatened to upend the very freedoms that citizens were intent on protecting. Yelchin uses unique black and white photos to underscore his vivid imagery of light, dark and shadow. Not unlike the present day, readers will be challenged to evaluate the value of truth and consider how much they would be willing to risk to uncover it. In the end, Jake discovers that things are not always as they seem, and sometimes this is a rewarding and comforting discovery indeed.
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About the Author
Eugene Yelchin is a Russian-American artist best known as an illustrator and writer of books for children and young adults. Yelchin is a National Book Award finalist for The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge co-authored with M. T. Anderson and the recipient of Newbery Honor for Breaking Stalin’s Nose. He received the Golden Kite Award for The Haunting of Falcon House, the Crystal Kite Award for illustrating Won Ton, the National Jewish Book Award for illustrating The Rooster Prince of Breslov, and the SCBWI Tomie DePaola Award.
Visit him at eugeneyelchinbooks.com.
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