UNDERRUNNERS by Margaret Mahy


Age Range: 10 - 14
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"Underrunners" are narrow ditches, dangerous but intriguing, eroded in the inhospitable ground around 11-year-old Tristram's New Zealand home; here, he keeps a cache of provisions in case of an emergency and later hides his friend Winola (who's tunneled her way out of the nearby Children's Home) when she says she's in danger. Tris lives danger: a solitary boy with few friends, he has a rich fantasy life in which "Selsey Firebone" is a hero; Winola first makes friends with Tris by responding to Selsey's deep voice. In real life, Tris longs for the mother he barely remembers (she left years ago) and wonders whether Randall, his dad, will remarry. Randall used to counsel people; mistaking concern for professional skill, Tris doesn't like to confide in him. Some of the metaphorical underrunners are more perilous: the mysterious stranger lurking around the neighborhood in a handsome car proves to be Winola's vicious, abusive father and, in the book's gripping last half, he kidnaps the two children (coldly shooting Randall in the process) and imprisons them in a bleak house that Tris is astonished to recognize from his own imperfectly remembered past. Resourceful and courageous, the kids try again and again to escape, with Randall arriving to put a heroic finish to their rescue by walking into the house unarmed. Vintage Mahy: allusive, multilayered, intelligent, its compelling plot arising from splendidly idiosyncratic characters. A fine prelude to Memory (1988), with a similar theme of self- realization despite--and enriched by--the past's continuing power. (Fiction. 10-14)
Pub Date: April 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-670-84179-X
Page count: 169pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1992


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