April 27, 2012

Run Marco Run

by Norma Charles
Ronsdale Press
183 pp.

Marco has not done anything wrong, if you're thinking that's why he's running.  He's running because his father, James Graham, a journalist in Colombia, tells him to run while himself being kidnapped from a marketplace in Buenaventura.  Even though only thirteen, Marco knows the ins and outs of Buenaventura's criminal elements: its kidnappings of foreigners and journalists and their families, and corrupt police, drug cartels, and rebel groups.  His father, whose light skin distinguishes him as a gringo, is not silent about illegal or corrupt practices, making him an easy target.  Although Marco is Colombian-born and speaks Spanish more easily than English, he is vulnerable, without a mother now and the only child of a target.  So when his father cries out, "Run, Marco, run," he does just that.

Run Marco Run follows Marco in his quest first for safety and then for help in saving his father from potential death.  Although his mother's cousin, Aunt Rosa, and her children, Juan and Rosita, are family living in Buenaventura, asking for their help will only put them in danger.  So, when he finds refuge under a lifeboat on a ship heading for Vancouver, his father's former home, Marco latches onto the idea of getting help there, specifically from an influential international lawyer, Rolando Mendoza, who Marco's father had helped immigrate to Canada.

While Marco's decision to travel to Vancouver as a stowaway and the ensuing journey seem too implausible, Marco's introduction to Canada reads as legitimate as he suffers physical trauma, hunger and thirst, meets Canadians both helpful and scary, and experiences obstacles to his goal of finding Mr. Mendoza.  His suspicions of almost everything new (people, food, water) are clearly evident, though he acknowledges to himself his need to accept risks in order to have any hope of achieving his goal.

The legitimacy of Marco's need to help is father takes him on a very purposeful adventure, which middle grade readers will appreciate.  There are no awkward jumps from past to present and back again to confuse younger readers, or subplots that stray from Marco's desire to reunite with his father.  While Marco's voice may come across as awkward sometimes (for example, I don't know anyone who uses the word "hurray" anymore), and this may just be a reflection of his less-comfortable use of English, his need to find Mr. Mendoza as his father's only hope is convincing.

Norma Charles, author of The Girl in the Back Seat (Ronsdale Press, 2008) and Bank Job (Orca, 2009) with James Heneghan, has tackled some tough issues in her books: polygamy, peer pressure, foster children.  In addressing the vulnerability of foreigners and journalists, as well as the Buenaventura's criminal notoriety (Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada advises against all travel to the city of Buenaventura due to the "presence of illegal armed groups." Colombia Travel Report, Still Valid April 27, 2012), Run Marco Run provides young readers with a bona fide action-adventure while seeing their own country from another young person's perspective.

1 comment:

  1. I'm impressed. You really 'got' this book. Your review has captured the urgency Marco experiences, searching for a way to get his father free from his kidnappers. Thanks for a terrific review!