Ten years ago the president of the United States declared that global warming had reached a tipping point from which it would not recover. In answer to this dilemma, modern technology was shut down. The elderly and other volunteers could opt to live out the rest of their lives in a virtual world, but all others were left to fend for themselves.
Seventeen-year-old Avi Bloom lives in a world in which each family must contribute one child as a runner. A runner risks life and limb to travel from village to village delivering news and other small items. Avi is one run shy of retiring when she discovers that whole villages are disappearing, leaving only a few dead bodies and the youngest children behind. Now, Avi must find out who or what is responsible for these missing people as she goes on a journey and discovers friendship, love, and betrayal. She also discovers that the forces behind these disappearances are much larger and more frightening than she could ever have imagined.
(re: Goodreads @ The Runner by J.M. Johnson)
Should this book be picked up? the tl;dr spoiler-less review:
- Elements of intrigue include Amish concepts and computer programming language.
- Heroine is underwhelming in development. Love triangle exhibited through underdeveloped relationships.
- Action sequences are fast-paced.
- There’s a degree of wishful thinking and lacking urgency in plotting.
I received a copy of this book from the author for an honest critique.
The premise is intriguing and certainly made me want to read this. The unfortunate thing is that while it does start off with a bang, there are avenues which lack substance in allowing this narrative to thrive in this genre.
Let me run these thoughts by you:
Disclaimer: Potential spoilers inherent to this review from here onward.
[“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die in one life before we enter another.”]
Full disclosure: With the copy I received (eBook); there were evident grammatical errors and sentence phrasing that just read awkwardly for me. This does not affect the content of this review but I would just like to highlight this as a distraction in passing.
The story begins in the life after humanity faces its own demise where technology is shut down to prevent further cataclysmic flooding of global warming. This leaves strife in its wake and the fall of structure and order in the world. At the expense of living, humans can opt to be plugged into Eden and be cared by machines. The narrative follows Avinash Bloom, our teenage heroine who fast-tracked childhood to acquire the skills and knowledge in surviving the world post-Shift; the namesake change in lifestyle. Through anecdotes and the journey she embarks on do we uncover the state of the world. However, there is a certain deficiency in the world building that leaves so many avenues unanswered and begging for more.
In this genre in particular, the ability to distinguish a world (albeit based off of Earth) from others in creating a dangerously atmospheric environment is quintessential in setting the tone for events moving forward. Leaving holes for progressive plot points as far as pacing is concerned is understandable and works so long as the details are uncovered or come to be realised. With The Runner, readers are immediately immersed in Avi’s mission and sense of urgency exhibited by those who have survived or are trying to survive. From a learning curve perspective, I was expecting more inclusion and meaning built up out of these missions but was left with so many questions. While there are provisions toward the need for runners, what it lacked was clarity in definitive reasoning for implementing such a procedure. Essentially, the Shift incited a change in the world beginning ten years her present but there is no support to aid in understanding why specifically teenagers were expected to run, why the arbitrary 185 runs and the plausibility of turmoil-filled world having villages agree on such terms. The fall of any world would suggest Darwinian measures of survival so the build up is fairly lacklustre although the promise is there.
[“The change is apparent the second we enter the woods. My smile fades and my senses are on full alert, searching for danger. We travel in silence, or at least, nobody is talking. Every step of the horses, each cough, or scratch, or sigh from my friends sounds like an explosion in my ears.”]
Moreover, the potential inclusion of The Runners Manual is great if it had actually created more value than Avi questioning a rule in one instance and immediately discarding the thought in another. If the manual was presented as an epigraph of sorts and woven into Avi’s character (considering she grew up a Runner from six years of age) where she then questions the standards she has grown up to live by comparable to her outward actions could it have been a much more compelling character fleshing from an internal standpoint. By essentially downplaying the Runner aspect, an entire creative element becomes moot and unfortunately questions the difference it would have made if it was not included at all. The elephant in the room suggests that if she wasn’t a runner than things wouldn’t have panned out the way they have – and it’s absolutely right but I certainly beg the question of the value it adds.
This isn’t to say that there weren’t any creative elements as well. The coming of Rome (the village) and its Amish lifestyle was neat; a historical lesson if I ever saw one. Additionally, the Mall was an interesting approach albeit farfetched at times. I’m sure there are upkeep costs (i.e. rent) to keep a business in the Mall but for Troy who presumably earns one silver coin for a service that operates basically once a day, you start to question if some aspects have been thought through. It is well advised that there is a new standard of currency but the value itself isn’t explicitly dictated. While this is just a simple nuance in detailing, the effect translates toward events in the Mall, and in pacing could relate back to the value of survival (i.e. value of one animal pelt).
[“I am now shoving all of my negative feelings into a sealed box. I watch as the box floats down the river. Veronica is my friend and I am going to behappy for the two of them, even if I have to leave imaginary boxes of jealousy all over the earth.”]
There is a great deal of wishful thinking and questionable behaviour of individuals in this narrative. It isn’t even the fact that I’m likely cynical and see the worst in people. It’s just that in many instances, the scenes stray from past behavior and dialogue (remembering the world they now live in) and as a reader you certainly question the logic behind the actions taken through playing devil’s advocate.
Exhibit A: When Avi is stopped by a gang and inadvertently drags a random passer (Ziggy) into the situation, she disapproves of his use of a gun and goes blazing in with her katana (I still don’t know how and why she has a Katana as opposed to a sword) after suggesting to Ziggy that “nobody is going to die”. Her logic was to negotiate and sweet talk her way out of the predicament. But what if they had not let her go? Would she have done the unthinkable and cut the throat of the man she fought and thus the bullet would have been the same result. Hmmm. In its truest form, it’s unbelievable that they would snag up playthings in other villages but had a revelation and an immediate change of heart and let Avi go free.
Exhibit B: When Avi begins her adventure to the Mall and is essentially ransacked by the children of a clan (Divers), saves said children, and then receives a pep talk from an elder about how their clan only steals on the basis of survival and avoids killing at all costs. With items and food scarce, stealing rations is nearly as good as killing someone. Furthermore, one would assume that trust is difficult to have let alone earn. But how can Avi tell strangers whom she has just met their whole mission and back story but is seemingly distant to her own village inhabitants from a secret mission perspective. Moreover, I also found it illogical for her friends to have a food fight during this scene. The logic is puzzling…
[“I’m not going to come with you. Ziggy is going to wake up and need you. Dante’s version of hell is proximity without intimacy. I would die if I had to watch the two of you together.” Troy holds my gaze.]
To extend Avinash’s antics to her character development…it’s really a mishmash of disappointment all stemming from the lacking awareness to herself and the environment. At the beginning, she exudes a sense of knowing (her post-Shift situation) and logically rationalises her actions. Avi isn’t one to romanticize herself with anyone because she believes she can’t play the weak victim role and insists toward putting on a strong and independent front. That’s fair. One page later, she exhibits jealous antics and is glad that someone is worried about her. This jealous non-exclusive girlfriend act instinctively comes into play and holy shit was I irritated at her behaviour. If it was a fully fleshed out relationship, sure, I can sort of handle it. But based on the pacing of the narrative, the bottom line is that she’s only known Ziggy and Troy for less than a week and there’s immediacy toward juggling a love triangle. There hasn’t been an outlet for Avi to purely demonstrate her survival instincts balanced against moral conundrums. Although the life she leads and the events she encounters have a tinge of urgency, there’s no evident consequence or self-realised skepticism toward anything she does. By no means am I saying characters should be killed off on a whim. It just detracts from the realism that everything feels force fed and things just work in her favour.
My opinion only, I think the romance could have been deferred to the next installment as there was no need for any of it in the build up. The only value added was she presented herself more of a damsel in distress. Additionally, there’s a sense of passivity in voicing some scenes that I could have done without. If it’s an internal thought struggle then I can look it over; but if it’s a sequence intended to be fast-paced, given the intent on making her a strong female heroine, then i question the use.
[“Let’s all sleep together! I’ll sleep in the middle. Don’t worry. I’m like Switzerland. I haven’t had a sleepover in forever.”]
In terms of supporting characters, the pact made on her journey felt very “fellowship of the rings”-like but not processed to the degree that characters evolve from being flat and one-dimensional. For the most part, aside from physical features and everyone showering Avinash with love as if they’re programmed to believe her to be their saviour, there isn’t much depth to be had from the first installment. From a dialogue perspective, there were some great moments and some awkward conversations that might be inherent in the nature of newfound relationships – nothing stellar from this front.
The biggest perplexing concern I had involved the “white light” mystical powers she suddenly came across in touching people’s lives, healing them, and solving the disastrous economic crisis and global warming and shit like that. Like, what? There are telling signs that would either question her special ability to control dreams in producing a magical mystical light in the present “real” world or it pushes the limits of reality to the extent that her life is just a figment of imagination in the world of Eden. There are facets of narrative that would suggest this: mainly her hearing her father’s voice out of the blue (assuming to only be able to hear it when she’s plugged into Eden) and the conditional computer programming via. if statements (i.e. if a person is armed, then shoot them in the head). In either case, from a writing standpoint, it is a bit odd that the narrative panned out the way it did but it also somewhat works in its favour to have an open concept leading into the next installment. I am rather perplexed by this though because this would grasp at Matrix concepts while adding layers of dream levels of Inception.
Overall, this is one of those reads that I wasn’t able to immerse myself in the mindset of the characters and the world they lived in. Some concepts are interesting additions to the novelty of sci-fi dystopian that if further developed can certainly lift this story. Otherwise, the narrative lives and dies by Avinash Bloom and personally, she wasn’t able to hold up the story for me.
//end of review nonsense.
I definitely did not mean to come off as spiteful in this review as much as it seemed that way in my wording. I’m keeping my interpretation as real as possible.