CM . . .
. Volume XVIII Number 9. . . .October 28, 2011
Run, Marco, Run.
Vancouver, BC: Ronsdale Press, 2011.
183 pp., pbk., $11.95.
Grades 7-12 / Ages 12-17.
Review by Rob Bittner.
Marco struggled to escape but the man's grip was too tight. He swore in Marco's ear and tried to heave him away. He smelled the stink of the man's sweat and his hot beery breath.
He twisted around and yelled in the man's face, "No!" He yanked back with all his strength, flailing out with hands and feet and knees.
"Run!" Marco's father bellowed as the men dragged him away. "Run, Marco, run!"
Marco lives in Buenaventura, Colombia, with his father, James, a foreign news correspondent working on a story on drug running in South America. Hearing of a kidnapping at his son's school one day, James runs home to find Marco is safe and sound. Disaster averted, the two go shopping at the market, only to run into a group of men who proceed to restrain them both and try to drag them out of the market to an unmarked truck. When Marco manages to get away, his father tells him to run. And so he runs, but he does not know where to go.
Marco's only option is to escape Buenaventura and find a man named Rolando Mendoza who has connections with the police and some informants in gang circles. The only problem is that Rolando is in Vancouver. Through persistence and an unfailing drive to save his father, Marco manages to make his way up to Canada to try and find the man who could save his father. Along the way, he becomes a stowaway on a ship, finds himself stuck in Mexico, gets hurt swimming in the ocean, and meets a few helpful individuals who do their best to help Marco save his father.
Run, Marco, Run is a story of perseverance and the drive to survive, told through the eyes of a young boy who just wants to save his father. Norma Charles is a talented writer, and this work deserves attention. While the book does start off slightly rough—the dialogue feels forced in the initial pages—after the first few chapters, Charles manages to smooth things out and the pace ramps up. The book is not long, and so the characters are not as well-rounded as they possibly could be, but they are convincing and relatable nonetheless.
Marco is a believable protagonist, even if his journey might at times feel unreal. His story reminds readers that sometimes it is the act of running away to find help that is the most heroic thing to do. Marco's journey is fraught with peril, but he sticks with his gut instincts and does what he has to in order to survive and find help from Rolando. A few interesting and endearing characters show up throughout the narrative, populating the text with reassurances of human kindness and the existence of good Samaritans—a young boy and his grandmother, a UBC student, and a helpful cousin. There are a few unsavory characters in the mix, though, and they act as well-placed foils against which everyone stands out all the more—a drug dealer, an angry ship captain, and of course the gang members.
I do wish the book had been longer, allowing for more scenic descriptions and more depth in some of the characters, but, as it is, Run, Marco, Run is still a book worth picking up. It is a book that will resonate with young people as well as older readers, and the themes of drug trafficking and immigration difficulties are timely and relevant. Norma Charles has written an enjoyable and important story that needs to be told.
Rob Bittner recently defended his MA thesis for a Children's Literature degree at The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC. He is a voracious reader of all things YA.
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