Charlie's father is dead, and although his mother insists he stay in school, Charlie has no patience for the classroom. All he wants is to make money, to give his mother and baby brother a better life. So when he catches the eye of Squizzy Taylor, a notorious mobster, and is offered a job as Squizzy's courier, it doesn't take Charlie long to accept--even if he has to go against his own mother's wishes.
At first, the job's a thrill--running with messages, illegal liquor, whatever Squizzy orders. It fills Charlie with power. But then come the not-so-savory parts of the job. Collecting Squizzy's debts. Dodging Squizzy's enemies. The very real dangers of the streets. And at some point Charlie has to ask himself--how long before running for a better life means cutting his life short?
Australian author Newton's touching coming-of-age story starring 16-year-old Charlie Feehan is set in 1919 Melbourne. After his father's death, Charlie still wears knickerbockers at school, "but once the lessons were over, I returned home and stepped into the long pants of adulthood." Responsible for caring for his impoverished family, Charlie runs several miles nightly, in an effort to cast off the inescapable cold at home ("To be poor was to be cold. The two were the same"). Charlie's speed attracts the attention of local crime boss Squizzy Taylor who offers him a job as a runner, delivering goods and collecting payments. Though Charlie's mother forbids him from accepting the position, he skips school to take the job. However, he eventually discovers that Squizzy's world is far too dangerous. When Charlie's friend and fellow runner, Norman "Nostrils" Heath, is crippled by a gang attack, Charlie, paralyzed by fear, is unable to come to his friend's defense. Charlie's neighbor, Mr. Redman, offers to train him for the big Bellarat Mile Race, and Charlie sees this as his best opportunity for redemption. The youth's growing friendship with Nostrils is especially tender, as is a subplot centering on a nascent romantic interest. Newton's writing teems with bright, engaging dialogue, a compelling historical setting and fully developed characters; this outing should easily win him U.S. fans. Ages 10-up. (Apr.)
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Knopf Books for Young Readers
December 08, 2008
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