Spy Runner

Written by Eugene Yelchin
Review by Meg Wiviott

Twelve-year-old Jake McCauley is convinced the boarder his mother has taken in is a Russian spy. Mr. Shubin is Russian, after all, and it is 1953, when students practice duck and cover drills, hiding under their desks in the event of a nuclear attack, and every American is charged with doing their part to protect America from Communism and Russian spies who threaten US borders and the American way of life. Mysterious phone calls in the night, hidden photographic equipment, and a man with gold teeth spying on his house add to Jake’s suspicions. He doesn’t believe Mr. Shubin’s claims that he knows Jake’s father, who went missing in action during WWII. When Jake confides his worries to his best friend, Duane, all the kids at school turn against him. Determined to prove himself a loyal American and Mr. Shubin a spy, Jake pretends to be a spy like the character in the comics he and Duane read. What he discovers is that no one is who they pretend to be.

Filled with car chases, crashes, threats, thugs who claim to be FBI agents, gun battles, and general mayhem, this is not a simple story about prejudice and scaremongering. Jake is an imaginative, impulsive boy trying to find truth when no one around him—grown-ups, teachers, parents, and even the government—is being honest. The author’s own grainy, black and white photographs intersperse the book, increasing the tension. This is a timely choice for middle-grade readers who love adventure mixed with political intrigue.