When I read Sky Song, Sharon Sant’s debut YA novel, I knew this author had something very special. She has this gift of writing brilliantly realistic stories, amongst a backdrop of fantastical, supernatural or other worldly events. When I first read the blurb for Runners, I instantly knew that I wanted to get to know this ‘Elijah’ and find out why he was on the run. This was one book I instantly knew I’d enjoy, and thankfully I wasn’t disappointed.
Runners follows the trials and misadventures of Elijah as he joins up with another group of Runners – kids and teenagers taking on the harsh streets and countryside in a remote future distant England, desperately avoiding the prying eyes of the CMO (an agency that captures ‘stray’ children and throws them into a labour camp). But during their journey, as they try anything to survive, Elijah stumbles, rather accidentally, across a weird project, an experiment in the middle of a forest, and one that sees him time travel of sorts. And with the rather sinister character of Maxwell Braithwaite lurking in the background, Runners certainly has the potential to capture the hearts of some, and the imagination of others.
What Sharon Sant does fantastically from the start, is describing the harsh and vast landscape the world has turned in to. And i think that is where Runners gets its ‘dystopian’ label from. Energy sources have dwindled, global warming has turned crops and fields barren; life is hard, and unless you are rich, well the bread-line certainly affects more people than it does today. Run down cottages, severe labour camps, dense woodland … the list goes on, and you can put yourself right there into the middle of these places as Sharon Sant’s gift lures you in and refuses to let you go. I remember reading, quite near the beginning of the book, as Elijah and Rosa go to acquire food from a dusty market place, and I just couldn’t put the book down! I was there, in the crowd watching the two teenagers, and I could see, smell, taste the environment – a testament to the writing ability I think you’ll agree.
But where Runners certainly storms into the lead in the overly crowded YA genre, is through the group dynamic and characterisation. This is, perhaps, mostly Elijah’s story, but he isn’t alone in this bleak world, and his interaction with the group is absorbing and heavily realistic. Not only have you got the outcast (Elijah) you’ve got the leader in Xavier, the girl next door in Sky – even the tough-as-nails girl in Rosa, but these aren’t stereotypes. Oh no, they are all integral to the plot and the group dynamic, and in my opinion, if you remove one, then the whole group would disband. And to some extent, it does do in parts when one character finds themselves in trouble.
And there is trouble in bundles here. Whether it be ambushed for food tokens, a couple of eerie dead bodies, constantly evading the CMO. And the action perfectly balances the strong character presence in a way that harmonises Runners as an example for all others to follow.
As a group of teenagers, you’d expect to see squabbling, fights, and even the odd flirty behaviour and this all adds to the depth of this novel. The more you observe and analyse the book, the more you begin to respect the author in her attempt to provide themes of survival, friendship, first love and trust. But underneath the tiffs, the squabbles and misunderstandings, its the unit, the collective group where all characters truly flourish. And it is Sharon Sant’s understanding of the teenage mind that sets the book alight with moments of brilliance. My particular favourite characters has to be Rosa, because underneath the tough exterior, their is a young woman who only wants to belong. I also became quite attached to Grace, a scientist from the past.
One could argue that the first half of this book is a tad bit too slow, but I would strongly disagree. Well, I would disagree that this would be a bad thing. It gives us ample chance to understand how the group will work together, understand how the world differs from our own and the laws upon which govern society – it is exceptionally detailed. It is when the action really accelerates in the last third of the book, especially in the labour camps, where the books transforms. Touches of science fiction allows for strange goings on, and this is where the incredibly business savvy antagonist, Mr Braithwaite, makes his intentions fully known – and with his sarcastic, distasteful comments and confused ideas, you simply have to back Elijah and spur him on to get the better of this vulgar man.
Runners is a gritty young adult novel that transcends genre in such a successful way. It is realistic, absorbing and rich in detail that will leave you itching for more. The pressure of living in such a place gives you a much needed respect for life in general, as well as for Elijah and co’s predicament. There is something for everyone here with engrossing scenes of escape, as well as intelligent progression of how a quirky bunch of teenagers can stumble upon danger at every turn.
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