From School Library Journal
Grade 9 Up—Joseph, a 14-year-old living in an Australian suburb, draws a portrait of a reclusive neighbor for a school assignment. A Vietnam vet, Tom Leyton lives in his family home with his outgoing sister, Caroline, and devotes his time to raising silkworms. A nosy neighbor warns Joseph and his mum about rumors that Tom was asked to leave his teaching position due to improper behavior toward a student, but Joseph perseveres, with Caroline's encouragement. At first almost noncommunicative, Tom gradually opens up to shy Joseph, who in turn shares secrets regarding his absent father. Threaded throughout the tale is Joseph's fascination with the Running Man, a homeless person who jogs through the streets, and about whom he has nightmares. This nearly plotless story features strong character development and delves into the post-traumatic stress syndrome afflicting Tom. However, when he finally tells Joseph about the events in Vietnam that have left him so scarred, the dialogue becomes stilted and unnatural. Bauer's writing style veers between reserved and stiff, and the silkworm metaphor—"All their lives in a box!"—is troweled on too thickly. The Running Man, introduced early on, does not reemerge until late in the story. The explanation for Joseph's father's absence, especially as the underlying reason for the teen's reticence, is introduced so late that it merely interrupts the flow of the narrative instead of enhancing the climax. While this novel will appeal to students seeking a thoughtful psychological character study, it is marred by more telling than showing.—Joyce Adams Burner, Hillcrest Library, Prairie Village, KS
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Three men loom large in 14-year-old Joseph’s life: his absent father, his reclusive neighbor, and the mysterious Running Man, who haunts his dreams. The most compelling of these figures is neighbor Tom Layton, whom Joseph begins to know—despite the shrill neighborhood gossip—after drawing the man’s portrait for a school assignment. Getting to know the deeply troubled, often silent man is like unwrapping the cocoon of the silkworm Tom raises as a hobby. It’s agonizingly slow, painstaking work (some readers will find it all too slow), further freighted with metaphors that sometimes overpower the fragile story. An additional problem is an overabundance of plot; there are actually three stories here—father, neighbor, and Running Man—struggling to cohere. All that said, one admires the Australian author’s ambition as well as his carefully constructed characterizations, which illuminate the slowly emerging relationship between Joseph and Tom. Grades 8-12. --Michael Cart