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“Listen, pal. I’m sorry that you got yourself into this mess, but you have only yourself to blame. I tried everything I could to keep you out of it, but you got a bee under your butt. If you don’t quit sneaking around and sticking your nose into things you can’t even begin to understand, you’ll be in much bigger trouble than you already are, get it?” Shubin. –Spy Runner
by Eugene Yelchin
Jake McCauley is proud to be an American. He’s proud of his country because America is a country where liberty, justice, and truth prevail. Everyone must do their part to keep America free from communists. Everyone—his classmates, his teachers, and the adults around him—are on the lookout for communist and Russian spies.
But Jake has another reason to fear Russia. His father went missing 12 years ago during World War II. Jake is convinced that the Russians took his dad to a secret facility. Every morning, when his class says the pledge of allegiance, Jake secretly says another pledge— “I pledge to save my dad from the Russians and bring him home so my dad and mom and I can be a regular family like we’re supposed to be in America.”
From the very first page, Spy Runner captures the reader’s attention and takes them on a heart-stopping, action-packed journey where no one can be trusted—not even those closest to Jake. When Jake’s mom takes in a Russian boarder, Jake is determined to prove the man is a spy. Jake uses all the knowledge he’s gained from the Spy Runner comic books to stalk his target and accidentally finds himself caught up in a world of intrigue—a world he doesn’t understand. Soon the Russian spy, G-men, and a fat man with gold teeth are all hot on Jake’s trail. Jake must face unexpected enemies, men who are willing to kill, and even his own classmates.
Through Jake’s eyes, readers will gain a new understanding of the Cold War and the paranoia that surrounded communism. As Jake is persecuted by his own classmates, he comes to understand that anyone can be considered a communist; even those who have the audacity to discuss the constitution. Although Spy Runner shows the atmosphere of the time, the story is light on historical details that would help younger readers fully understand the Cold War. Though a highly entertaining story, Yelchin’s story parallels the current political climate and highlights the dangers of having a divided country.
Spy Runner moves quickly, and throughout Jake’s journey, he is beaten, battered, and almost killed several times. Jake continues to run from the adults who are trying to help him—mostly because he believes everything that he has read in spy comics and he had no idea who to trust. Younger readers will relate to Jake’s inability to know what to do, and his desire to do what is right. Spy Runner is an action-packed story that has more suspense than violence and will keep readers guessing until the very end. Because the story details the paranoia and propaganda of the cold war, Spy Runner is best suited for middle-grade readers.
- After a Russian man moves into Jake’s house, his classmates think Jake is a “dirty communist” and beat him up. “Duane was on his back, flailing his arms, and Jake straddling his chest, leaned away so as not to be hit in the face. . . Duane yanked his hand from Jake and when he let it go, Duane’s fist bounced back, whacking himself hard on the nose.” During the fight, “Jake thrashed under the blows of the boys’ sharp fists and knees and elbows. . . The boys scattered, leaving Jake rolled into a quivering ball in the aisle.”
- When the Russian man, Shubin, leans back in a rocking chair, Jake “slid his foot below the rocker blade nearer to him, and gave it a slight push upward. He missed seeing Shubin go down because he was shooting back to where he sat before, but he did hear the crash.
- Men in a Buick chase Jake. When Jake hides in an alley, someone “yanked him toward the wall. A large hand slapped over his mouth, stifling his scream. The Buick burst into the alley. The person squashed Jake against his body and stepped into the shadows. The Buick roared by.”
- Jake snatches an envelope from a man named Bull. “Then all at once a sharp pain shot through Jake’s chest. Somehow he was not standing anymore but lying on the sidewalk, and Bull was looming over him, and the envelope was under his arm again.” The contents of the envelope fall out and both Jake and Bull tried to pick them up. “Bull’s left hand did something to Jake again. Sharp pain shooting through Jake’s chest made him blackout, and when he opened his eyes, he was ten feet way from Bull, flat on his back, wedged between the trash can and the lamppost.”
- While his friend is in a parade, Jake tries to get his attention, but “a trombone slide bashed him from behind and he dropped the baton and went down. . .” A float almost runs over him, but he isn’t injured.
- After a man overhears Shubin talking about the constitution, the man “accidentally” shoves a hot bowl of beans into his lap.
- Someone smacks Jake over the head and kidnaps him. When Jake wakes up, “The left side of his face was throbbing with pain. He tried to rub at his temple, but could not lift his arms. A thick rope twined around his arms, chest, thighs, and shins, bounding them to the folding chair.” When agents arrive, shots are fired, and “Jake’s eyes darted from the window toward Bull’s thick, stubby fingers, bleeding from the shattered glass, and watched in horror as they closed around [Jake’s] neck. Bull’s thumbs kneaded the front of Jake’s throat, feeling for something, found it, and began pressing down on his windpipe, first lightly then harder and harder.” There are more gunshots before the agents are able to free Jake.
- Jake causes the car he’s riding in to crash. “The Cadillac careened across the center lane. . . The windshield buckled, sagged inward, and exploded into a million sparking fragments. Another vehicle smashed into the Cadillac from the rear. The Cadillac spun in place, flinging shards of glass in all directions.” When help arrives, Jake sees the man’s body being passed through the gaping windshield.”
- While at his house, Bull breaks in. “Startled, Jake peered at the enormous white potbelly sagging over the handle of a gun stuck behind the trousers’ belt. Before he could scream, Bull snatched Jake by the shirtfront, yanked him into the room, whooshed him round, and squashed his neck in the crook of his arm. . . Jake thrashed wildly in Bull’s iron grip. A flash. A loud blast. The ceiling globe exploded. Bull crushed Jake’s neck harder. . . Choking, Jake grasped Bull’s forearm with both hands, trying to push the gun away from his mother. The gun went off again.” As others try to help Jake, “rapid gunfire popped from several directions. A bullet whizzed by and slugged into the wall above Jake’s head, spraying plaster in all directions.” Bull is eventually handcuffed and taken away. No one is seriously injured. The scene takes place over five pages.
Drugs and Alcohol
- When Jake is kidnapped, he sees “drained beer bottles” in the place he is being held.
- A person tells Jake about a conversation he had with Jake’s father “over a cold beer.”
- Heck is used three times; damn, darn, and crap are all used once.
- Jake’s mom and a man were carrying a trunk. When the trunk slips out of Jake’s mom’s hand, the man says, “What the hell?”
- Jake thinks the Russian man is “clearly a jerk.” Later, the Russian says that some of the kids that hit Jake were “jerks.”
- Jake calls his friend a fool.
- When Jake’s mom sees Jake injured, she asks, “My God, who did this to you?”
- A man tells Jake, “aircrafts are better than people. Better than those morons who are supposed to protect them, that’s for damn sure.”