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Carl Deuker

Publishing Information: Houghton Mifflin: Boston, 2005
ISBN: 0618542981
: 224 p.
Ages: 12 & Up

An absent mother, an alcoholic father and no way to pay the rent, Chance takes a mysterious job picking up packages.

Book Talk:
"You know something? I like your spirit. I really do," said the fat man. "But I don't have time to play games. So listen, and listen carefully. You're in trouble, and I can get you out of that trouble. I'm offering you a job, kid. Very good pay; very short hours. When somebody offers you easy money, you should at least hear him out."

Subject Headings & Major Themes:

Puget Sound, Washington
Single Families

Awards & Reviews:
Tayshas Reading Commended Young Adult, 2006 - 2007
Texas Lone Star Reading Commended Young Adult, 2006 - 2007
YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 2006

Gr. 7-10. "My dad never hit me; never yelled at me. He was just a drunk." High-school senior Chance is a "ghost-walker" at school--barely talking, just passing, finding escape only in long, solitary, after-school runs. His hard-drinking father can't keep a job, and Chance worries how they will pay the mooring fees for their dilapidated, 30-foot sailboat home in Pugent Sound. When a marina worker offers him a job picking up secret packages, Chance can't turn down the lucrative opportunity, even though he's sure it's illegal. But as a friendship with smart student Melissa grows, so does Chance's concern about his job and its possible links to local smuggling rings. Deuker drops plenty of hints about what's in the packages, but the tragic blockbuster ending may still be a surprise. The authenticity of Chance's first-person voice occasionally wavers, and the initial pacing of the story is sometimes awkward. But the sports and suspenseful action will easily draw readers, as will the gripping adventure's consideration of crime, class, ineffectual parents, and a teen's questions about his uncertain future.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2005, American Library Association.) --Booklist, June 1, 2005, p. 1782

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, June 2005, p. 435

He knows it's wrong, but he does it anyway. When Chance Taylor is offered a suspicious job -- retrieving packages hidden on his daily running route and stashing them away for later pickup -- the high school senior doesn't ask many questions. Chance views the two-hundred-dollar-a-week salary as a means to pay mooring fees for the sailboat where he and his alcoholic, chronically unemployed father live, as well as buy groceries and get an occasional muffin at the coffee shop where he spends time with his wealthy yet sympathetic classmate Melissa. Although he suspects he's working for a Puget Sound drug-smuggling ring, Chance doesn't get too worried until the nature of the packages begins to change and the man who hired him dies under mysterious circumstances. Readers will realize long before the protagonist that his actions might have an impact on national security (discussions of terrorism, patriotism, and war abound -- courtesy of Chance's world issues class -- from the very first page of the novel). Narrator Chance, an essentially good kid caught up in some questionable activities, is an empathetic central character in this fast-paced and suspenseful novel.(Copyright 2005 by The Horn Book, Incorporated, Boston. All rights reserved.)
--Horn Book Magazine
, May 1, 2005 p. 322

When Chance Taylor is offered a suspicious job--retrieving hidden packages and stashing them away for later pickup--the high school senior doesn't ask many questions. He views the two-hundred-dollar-a week salary as a means to pay the mooring fees for the sailboat where he and his alcoholic, chronically unemployed father live. Narrator Chance is an empathetic central character in this fast-paced and suspenseful novel. (Copyright 2005 by The Horn Book, Incorporated, Boston. All rights reserved.)
-- Hornbook Guide to Children
, July 1, 2005 pg. 332

Kirkus Review, April 15, 2005, p. 471

Kliatt, May 2005 p. 10

Gr 7 Up -When his alcoholic Gulf War veteran father is fired from the first steady job he has held in years, Chance Taylor is understandably glum. He has no idea where they'll get the money to pay the moorage fees for the run-down sailboat they call home. Since his parents' divorce, Chance has tried to keep a low profile in school, and his only pleasure is running by himself along the Seattle waterfront. When a marina office employee offers to pay him $250 a week to pick up occasional packages at a tree along his running route, Chance is deeply suspicious of what they may contain but desperate enough to accept this opportunity to pay the bills. As this new job gradually becomes more dangerous and more clearly illegal, Chance's father is able to rise above his personal problems to help extricate his son. In a gripping climax complete with SWAT teams swarming throughout the marina as Coast Guard patrol boats close in on terrorists, Chance is afforded a final glimpse of the heroic man his father once was. Writing in a fast-paced, action-packed, but at the same time reflective style, Deuker uses fewer sports scenes than in his previous novels, and instead uses running as a hook to entice readers into a perceptive coming-of-age novel. A subplot involving Chance's friendship with a wealthy female classmate whose father was a close high school friend of Chance's father is nicely integrated into this timely, compelling story." -Ginny Gustin, Sonoma County Library System, Santa Rosa, CA" Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
--School Library Journal
, June 2005, pg. 154

VOYA: Voice of Youth Advocates, August 2005, p. 214

Discussion Questions and Ideas:

  1. Chance faces a tough decision, smuggling or becoming homeless? What would you have done in that kind of situation? Have you never found yourself in a tough situation where no choice was a good choice?
  2. Despite Chance's father's many mistakes, in the end he makes the ultimate sacrifice for Chance and for his community. What do you think about his character? Did he end up a hero? Or did he take the easy way out? Were his reasons good or selfish?
  3. "Suddenly I wished I hadn't said anything. Because how could I explain to her that I wanted somebody to give me orders, that I wanted somebody to tell me what to do? Kids like Melissa- they couldn't wait to get out on their own, to make decisions. I'd been doing that for a long time, and I was worn out by it." (pg 170)
    What do you think about the quote above? Can you imagine wanting to be told what to do? Have you ever been grateful when your parents made a tough decision for you?
  4. What do you think about Chance and Brett's desires to join the military? How do their intentions differ? How are they the same?
  5. Chance compares this life a lot to the lifestyle of his friend Melissa. How does social economic class play a role in this book? How does it influence their decisions?
  6. What does Chance's story say about the military? In the end Chance feels that it is his only option, how you feel knowing that Chance had feel other choices, what does it say about our military and the kinds of people that enlist? What does it say about class? Do kids with all of Melissa's opportunities enlist? Or do you think our military is made up with kids like Chance? Is this a just system?

Related Websites:
Carl Deuker's Website

CNN: September 11 Memorial -

The September 11 Digital Archive -

The Monkey Thief by Aileen Kilgore Henderson (1997)
Refugees by Catherine Stine (2005)
The Scorpion Secret: Dare to Take the Test by M. A. Harvey (2004)
The Terrorist by Caroline B. Cooney (1997)

Other Books by the Author:
On the Devil's Court, 1988
Heart of a Champion, 1993
Painting the Black, 1997
Night Hoops, 2000 (2001 RITBA Nominee)
High Heat, 2003

About the Author:
Carl Deuker writes from the state of Washington. When not penning his next novel with his faithful rats, Carl teaches sixth grade in the Northshore School District, attends his daughter Marian's sporting events and spends time with his wife Anne Mitchell. Carl's rats, Nabisco, Xena and E-kat (his favorite but most unfortunately deceased rat) often write with Carl from his sofa. Carl is most noted for his young adult novels about sports, Runner is first departure from sports fiction. Carl loves hearing from his fans and encourages emails. He is also asking for help to decide a new title for his book, to email Carl or to help pick the title of his next book visit his official website:

| ©2004 - Rhode Island Teen Book Award Committee | Aaron Coutu, Chair