CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 7. . . .October 19, 2012
Dead Run. (Orca Soundings).
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2012.
120 pp., pbk., hc., pdf & epub, $9.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-4598-0244-5 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4598-0245-2 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-4598-0246-9 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4598-0247-6 (epub).
Grades 8-11 / Ages 13-16.
Review by Stacey Matson.
Reviewed from Advance Review Copy.
Riding with Robin is like nothing I've ever done before. I'm used to acting like cars and trucks are things to be avoided. Hazards. But Robin gets up close, sliding through spaces between cars with barely an inch to spare. It's like the street is a river and she's swimming with the current, smooth and powerful. She doesn't have any fear. She doesn't ever stop.
Me, it's more like I'm drowning. I'm jerking my handlebars around, slamming on my brakes, stuttering through the street. And barely keeping Robin in sight.
Then Robin breaks hard right, swerving across two lanes to dive into an underground parking lot entrance. I try to follow and hear a horn blast and squeal of brakes behind me.
I don't need to look over my shoulder to know that I'm about to become part of a dump truck's grille. I swerve hard, desperate. I can feel the air as the truck slices by me, barely missing my rear tire. I finally skid to a stop next to Robin in the parking lot. Sweat prickles all over my body. That was close.
Sam is a bicycle racer, and he's a good one. All he wants to do is win; prize money would be really useful to him now that his mom's gone and his dad works nights. Even though Sam's new to the sport, he knows he's good. After deliberately ignoring the needs of his team in order to win $100, Sam fails miserably and finds himself kicked off his racing team and nursing a very bruised ego. Without a placement in the competition, and without the $100 he needed so badly, Sam searches out Viktor, a gold medal olympian with a reputation for being the best teacher in the city. In return for training, Sam begins working for Viktor's courier company and discovers a world of cycling he's never seen before. Not only are bike couriers fearless and wild, there's a whole world of underground competitions to participate in, and a cute girl to hang out with, too. Sam's loyalty to Viktor leads him into ominously mysterious runs, until he finds out too late that he is deeply embroiled in the dark side of Viktor's world.
Dead Run is part of the "Orca Soundings" series, designed for reluctant readers and focusing on sport themed novels for adolescents. As such, it is action-packed, dropping the reader into the world of bike racing from the first sentence. Author Sean Rodman is adept at creating suspense and tension using short sentences and sharp, strong language. Each time Sam heads out onto the street, be it for a race or a courier drop, Rodman makes the scene interesting without being repetitive in nature to other parts in the novel. The book is best when Sam is riding, keeping the suspense high with every yellow light and sharply turned curve. Readers can picture the scenes vividly and will enjoy following Sam through the busy streets of the city. Because the novel is written in a first person narrative, Sam is a sympathetic character whose foibles are apparent but not overwritten. He does seems very clean-cut, and it feels like there could have been more conflict between him and the other couriers. He fits in right away, which rang a little untrue. Sam's struggles to become part of the courier world could have been teased out more to seem more realistic. At the same time, once Sam becomes a courier, there is little focus or mention of the training sessions he has with Viktor. Since professional bike racing is supposed to be his dream, more scenes focusing on learning or even adding a professional race somewhere in the middle of the novel would have helped remind readers of Sam's goal. Since the book moves so quickly, so does the plot, and, as such, it's difficult at times to empathize with the main characters. Dead Run would have benefitted from the addition of some scenes with breaks from the action and focusing on character development.
Overall, Dead Run is a good, fast-paced introduction to two worlds (bicycle racing and bike couriers) that are rarely explored in fiction, although one had best be ready for a major suspension of disbelief for the novel's extremely dramatic and cinematic ending.
Stacey Matson has worked in educational and interpretive programming in cultural/historic sites across Canada. She has recently completed her MA in children's literature at the University of British Columbia.
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