Wow! 'Running Out of Time' by debut author Simon Fox has an extraordinary concept, brilliantly executed through a sophisticated, tense and thrilling plot. Deconstructing what we all know about time and the choices we make while set against the backdrop of the refugee crisis, this is brave and breathtaking storytelling. A cerebral, high-concept Christopher Nolan for children!
I can steal time. The most I can take at the moment is fifteen seconds, which is not a lot. Grandmother took almost three minutes once and she told me she's done more, but I never saw it. She says there are stories of someone who can take all the time in the world, but how can that be right?... When Alex and his father are forced to flee their home to escape a brutal government, they begin a life-threatening journey across Europe. But when they are separated before they can reach Britain, Alex finds himself alone, with only his extraordinary gift to keep him alive...
I don't normally start my review by raving about the end of a book, but in 'Running Out of Time' Simon Fox delivers an absolute knock-out, completely re-framing the entire story with emotional heft and mental gymnastics. It's really quite astonishing and surprising. I am in awe of how the book is structured, flitting between past and 'present' in such a clever way, allowing the reader to make inferences and predictions like a pendulum swing. Each chapter has momentum and mounting tension with Alex's voice raw, smart and vulnerable. The conceit of using italics to show the possible futures Alex can 'see' is wonderfully unique and seems to push the boundaries of what storytelling can achieve, particularly for children.
As this is also a refugee story, some elements of the story suit slightly older readers. I would say this is for Year 6 and above. There is a lot of danger and action, through nail-biting escapes with guns, criminals and corrupt police. It's hard not to draw comparisons with what has happened in Ukraine, giving this a highly relevant, contemporary feel that also, eerily, echoes the story's ruminations on time and the harrowing predictions we can make about the future. But there's hope here: hope that people, through the brave example of children, can make the right choices to impact the world for the better.
What can I say? This is a terrific, intelligent, high-octane thriller that deserves all the attention it can get!
Thank you Nosy Crow for my copy to review!