By Eugene Yelchin. Ages 8 to 12.
According to his teachers, 12-year-old Jake McCauley has trouble controlling his foolish impulses. Now that his life is turning into some sort of spy movie, who can blame him?
The year is 1953, and tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union are rising. Jake lives with his mom near an Arizona Air Force base, and warnings about communism and its spies arrive regularly, including at school and on the radio.
When Jake’s mother rents their spare room to a mysterious man named Victor Shumin, Jake’s suspicions take over. Jake thinks Shumin may be a Russian spy and tries to find evidence in his suitcase. Jake also tries to listen in on
Shumin. And he worries that his mother is being too nice to this intruder; Jake feels loyal to his father, who went away 11 years ago to fight in World War II and never returned.
“Spy Runner” is written in short, fast-paced chapters, and author Eugene Yelchin keeps readers guessing along with Jake.
Jake isn’t sure, for example, whether he sees a man lurking outside in the dark, so we’re not sure either. Jake’s mother is acting strangely, and we don’t know why any more than Jake does. Has Jake read too many comic books about spies or is he actually being threatened? Uncertainties like these are nicely matched by the black-and-white photo illustrations that Yelchin has created for the book.
There are plenty of other tensions in the story. Jake is jealous of his best friend, Duane, who has a father who is a successful military officer. Duane meanwhile makes trouble for Jake at school by revealing Jake’s concerns about the possible spy in his house. After his classmates turn on him, Jake thinks he has to prove he’s not “a Commie” by trying to figure out where the bad guys are. Even when two FBI agents tell him to stop playing detective (“You’re not cut out for the job”), Jake keeps searching for answers.
Full of surprises, “Spy Runner” also offers some useful clues about secrets, lies and the Cold War world.
You might also like . . .
Eugene Yelchin’s first novel, Breaking Stalin’s Nose , which takes place in the Soviet Union shortly before “Spy Runner” and features a boy who faces a deeper level of confusion and uncertainty. The book, which includes impressive black-and-white illustrations by Yelchin, won a Newbery Honor Award in 2012.
The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora , by Pablo Cartaya. Set in Miami, this novel has a much lighter tone as it follows 13-year-old Arturo and his quest to save his family’s restaurant as well as the community around it. Arturo’s sense of humor helps him through a long, hot summer.
Next week in book club
By Nicole Panteleakos. Ages 8 to 12.
Nova loves astronomy, a passion she shares with big sister Bridget. The space shuttle Challenger is days from launching, and Bridget has promised to watch it on TV with Nova. But Bridget left their last foster home, and Nova is with a new family. Nova, who is autistic and doesn’t use words, hopes that Bridget — the only one who truly understands her — will find her way to Nova in time for liftoff.
Join the club
The Summer Book Club is open to kids ages 6 to 14. Children may read some or all of the books on our list. (Find a blurb for each book at wapo.st/kidspostbookclublaunch2019.) The first 500 kids registered will receive a snap watch. To join the club, children must be registered by a parent or guardian. To register, that adult must fill out our form at wapo.st/kidspostbookclub2019 or send their email, the child’s first and last names, age and address to KidsPost Summer Book Club, The Washington Post, 1301 K St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.