March 21

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Spy Runner by Eugene Yelchin

 

Spy Runner is a noir thriller for middle-graders. Chases, crashes, shootouts, and cliffhangers at the end of each chapter will keep even the reluctant readers turning the pages. Unbeknownst to them, they will be learning about Cold War. At that time, certain politicians exploited the communist threat against democracy by dividing American people. Nationalistic prejudices and media-disseminated misinformation were some of their tools. My hope is that through discussions with parents, librarians, and educators, the young readers will be able to draw parallels between the Cold War rhetoric depicted in Spy Runner and our current political and social climate.

 

 

Spy Runner had begun over three years ago when my agent Steven Malk brought up Russian spies in our phone conversation. He must have been gazing into a crystal ball. While I was learning about the former Soviet Union’s covert actions against the United States in the past, US intelligence revealed that Russia is using the very same tactics in the present. As a result, Steven’s advise to write a book about Russian spies – and the work that went into creating Spy Runner — seemed not only necessary but urgent.

 

 

My middle-grade novels testify, often from personal experience, to the damaging effects of ideology on the lives of ordinary children. Spy Runner is no exception. When at the height of the anti-communist crusade the mother of 12-year old Jake McCauley rents a room to a Russian émigré, Jake becomes ostracized at school and loses his best friend. Suspicion and mistrust clouds his judgment, and Jake barrels into a vertiginous adventure that leads to the emotionally shattering discovery that hardly anyone, including his mother, is what they seem.

 

 

I illustrated the book with photo-collages that appear as if they might have been taken with a spy camera. Not only these images increase the mysterious atmosphere, but also challenge readers to question Jake’s suspicions.

 

 

Many believe that all history is political. It follows that historical fiction is political also. Spy Runner is a political book for young readers under the guise of an adventure.  Perhaps, Spy Runner is a kind of a warning. It is a warning against surrendering truth in the name of safety. Given the fact that I was born and raised in the former Soviet Union, the search for truth is a subject of utmost importance to my work. It appears that this subject had caught up with me yet again, this time corresponding with the search for truth in our own country.

 

 

Eugene Yelchin is the author and illustrator of The Haunting of Falcon House, Arcady’s Goal, and the Newbery Honor Book Breaking Stalin’s Nose. He has also illustrated several books for children, including Crybaby, Who Ate All the Cookie Dough?, and Won Ton. He lives in California with his wife and children.