The Monmouth School of New York represents breeding and society, with many of the families whose children attend able to trace their lineage to the original settlers from the Mayflower, “money old and untarnished by the stain of modern commerce,” though that is not the only inheritance which has been passed down among “the secret runners of New York.”
New to The Monmouth are sixteen-year old Skye “Blue” Rogers and her brother Alfred, affectionately known to all as Red, but while he fits in easily with the lacrosse team she struggles to be accepted in the exclusive clique run by head girl Chastity Collins and her sister Misty and their designer-dressed cohort.
It’s debutante ball season, and the only way Skye will be invited is to work the bar with her friend Jenny, equally outcast but more accepting of her position as a social pariah, another in the endless cycle of distractions which keep the idle rich from paying concern to the approaching date on which a Caltech astrophysicist has predicted that the Earth will pass through a field of intense and invariably lethal radiation.
Her brother already running with the “in” crowd, an act of kindness towards the capricious Misty brings Skye in on the secret, the passage beneath Central Park which opens a portal to a devastated alternative version of the city, one which they realise exists in the future after the catastrophe predicted by Doctor Finkelstein; knowing the truth, do they party until the end of the world or save what little they can?
Heralded as “the first young adult novel from the multi-million copy bestselling author Matthew Reilly,” The Secret Runners of New York is very much a book of two halves, the future scenes beyond the portal pushing the plot forward through post-apocalyptic ruins while the ostensibly present framing story is insufferable in the extreme.
Skye’s first run not taking place until a third of the way into the novel, preceding that are over a hundred pages of poor little rich girl cliches, pre-parties, rehearsal dinners and afterparties, The Purge seen from the top-down as the champagne flows and the select few plan their getaway to a heavily shielded enclave with a buy-in of seventeen million dollars per person when not taunting those less wealthy or connected.
While some use young adult fiction as a gateway to more complex themes with approachable ideas and manageable ideals, The Secret Runners of New York is for the most part an indulgence of vanity, petty behaviour and selfishness, Skye perhaps standing on the sidelines but a collaborator all the same and little better than the worst of them, her conscience offering pangs but never prodding her to actual action.
Reilly’s fait accomplit of an imminent celestial event meaning Skye never has to actually choose to do the right thing for anyone other than herself, the mechanisms of the plot are well structured other than the conceit of the time portal itself, its nature unexamined and conveniently controlled by a cabal of rich teenage bitches, but with six and three quarter billion people condemned to death, what message does Reilly presume to convey that so long as Skye and her immediate family are among the survivors scrabbling in the ruins he can claim a happy ending?
The Secret Runners of New York is available from Hot Key Books from 26th March