Nearing the end of his life, a beloved old runner passes the torch to an eager young one.
Weaving past and present together in ways that infuse deep themes into common incidents, Almond sits 11-year-old Liam, already proudly wearing his official shirt for the upcoming Junior Great North Run, down with the failing Harry to share old photos and hear about a 1938 run to the sea. It begins as a lark but becomes a marathon, and by the time Harry and his friends stagger exhaustedly into the waves 13 weary miles later, they (and readers) have picked up some insights about the profound importance both of keeping on and of accepting help along the way. Much of that help comes from Veronica, a robust girl who leads them part of the way and by the end is holding Harry’s hand. Her oblique reference to an internal disorder or weakness, coupled with her absence from Harry’s later life, paints a whole tragic story of its own. Harry’s valedictory “Me great achievement is that I’ve been happy, that I’ve never been nowt but happy,” is a win in itself. Rubbino’s loosely brushed watercolors expertly capture both the tale’s period and its high spirits, rendering the present-day story in a gray wash and Harry’s reminiscence in full color. All the characters appear to be white.
A rich and resonant short story. (Illustrated fiction. 10 & up)