Robert Newton

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Runner Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Robert Newton's Runner. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Robert Newton

Robert Newton is an Australian author of middle grade and young adult fiction. He was born on an army base in Queensland, and his family moved around Australia throughout his childhood. He published his first novel, My Name is Will Thompson, in 2001, and has published eight other novels since then, including Runner. In addition to his work as a writer, he also works full time as a firefighter with the Metropolitan Fire Brigade in Melbourne, where he currently resides with his wife and children.
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Historical Context of Runner

Runner takes place in Melbourne in 1919, as criminals in the city of Melbourne were first attempting to construct a network of organized crime. Several of the gangsters mentioned in the book were real historical figures prominent in this movement to construct a criminal underworld, including Squizzy Taylor, Henry Stokes, and Snowy Cutmore. The beginning of organized crime in Melbourne was also its peak––by the 1930s, few gangsters were still operating in the city. Charlie’s experience in the slums of Melbourne is also based on reality. From the late 19th century to the early 20th, Melbourne slums became places of increasingly low quality of life. In the 1920s, activists campaigned to help the people living in slums, but aid efforts were slow and lasted into the 1950s and 60s.

Other Books Related to Runner

Other young adult novels set in historical Australia include Craig Silvey’s Jasper Jones, Jackie French’s A Waltz for Matilda, and Pamela Rushby’s The Ratcatcher’s Daughter. The 1920 short story “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” by F. Scott Fitzgerald explores American social change around the same time Runner is set, and it also centers on a teenage protagonist who contends with pressure from adults. Fitzgerald’s most famous work, The Great Gatsby, also features similar themes to Runner. Jay Gatsby is a “new money” man whose ambition and love for Daisy Buchanan propel him to move beyond his working-class upbringing, just as Charlie Feehan yearns for “something more” than life in the slums; and, like Charlie, Gatsby makes his fortune by working in the world of organized crime.
Key Facts about Runner
  • Full Title: Runner
  • When Written: 2004–2005
  • Where Written: Melbourne, Australia
  • When Published: 2005
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Young Adult Novel, Historical Fiction
  • Setting: Richmond, Melbourne, in 1919
  • Climax: Charlie competes in the Ballarat Mile race.
  • Antagonist: Poverty, Organized Crime
  • Point of View: First Person

Extra Credit for Runner

Across the Ocean. Runner was the first of Robert Newton’s novels to be published in the United States.