Night Runner, by Max Turner, is a young adult fantasy featuring a vampire. I know, I know, we've heard that before. What makes Night Runner stand out is that it's aimed at male readers (unlike many of the other vampire stories out there). Aimed successfully, I think.
Orphan Zack Thompson has spent the past eight years living in a mental institution. He has bizarre allergies, and as a result can't eat solid food or be exposed to sunlight at all. He sleeps all day and lives his rather lonely life at night. He has one friend, Charlie, who visits him, and a night-shift nurse who acts as a mother-figure (and prepares his special "strawberry" protein drinks). His life changes abruptly, however, after a strange man drives a motorcycle into the ward one night. Zack soon finds himself on the run from the police, and worse. He struggles to stay out of the sun, understand his own condition, and win the heart of a girl named Luna.
Night Runner has a bit of an old-fashioned, Gothic feel. There are evil vampires, creepy mists, and a mysterious mansion. These are balanced, however, against a modern-day, male teenage voice. Turner's writing reminds me a little bit of Jordan Sonnenblick's, actually (and that's a compliment, because I'm constantly praising Sonnenblick's ability to create authentic male voices). Zack isn't as funny as Sonnenblick's heroes, but he has a self-deprecating quirkiness that is appealing. Here are a couple of examples:
"Well, that was exactly what I needed--a knock at the door and an adventure of my own. But I guess wizards were in short supply. Instead of Gandalf, I got a crazy old man on a stolen motorcycle who smelled like he'd had enough wine to drown a horse. And all he did was trash the lobby." (Chapter 5)
"Could a mosquito be a vampire? What difference would it make, since they all sucked blood anyway? And what if it delivered my blood to someone else? Could vampirism be spread through mosquitoes, like malaria? It seemed to me that it wasn't too likely, or there would have been a lot more of us around." (Chapter 27)
"I looked at the bottle. The label said "Zaleplon," which sounded to me like a city on the planet Venus or something you would use to de-clog a drainpipe." (Chapter 36)
The first person viewpoint works well for Night Runner. Zack has led a very sheltered life, and there are implications that he misses that will raise flags for the reader. Occasionally I did wonder why he didn't know something, if he had access to movies, or, conversely, how he could know certain other things. But these are minor points, and may even contribute to the reader's appreciation of Zack as real and fallible.
I enjoyed reading a vampire book with a strong male protagonist [see also Heather Brewer's Vladimir Tod books]. I also liked seeing a vampire book in which the vampire is imperfect and struggling with basic survival. That Night Runner is nicely paced and crisply written is a bonus. Zack's friendship with Charlie is also realistically depicted, as is his awkwardness in talking with Luna. All in all, I think that Night Runner will be a hit, and I was glad to learn from the author's blog that a sequel is in the works. I would classify Night Runner as a must-buy for high school libraries.
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin (originally published earlier in Canada by HarperCollins)
Publication Date: September 1, 2009
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher. Quotes are from the ARC, and should be checked against the final book.
Other Blog Reviews: Hip Librarians Book Blog, Shelf Elf (also cross-posted at Guys Lit Wire), BriMeetsBooks, and Charlotte's Library. Night Runner was shortlisted for the 2009 Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.