Running out of Time

Style: Average

Attitude: Unobjectionable

In Brief: Contrasting the simple 19th century lifestyle with its modern unsympathetic equivalent. Ambivalent at the end as to which is better.

Author: Margaret Haddix

Publisher: Red Fox

Published in: 2000

Age Range: Young Teens

Period: Contemporary

Setting: Rural America

Genres:  Growing-UpHistorical


  • Jessie is the 13-year-old daughter of the village midwife who must make a difficult journey to get medical help for the children.


When a Diphtheria epidemic starts in the village of Clifton in 1840, Jessie's mother explains to her what the adults in the village all know: that the year is in fact 1996, but the inhabitants of the village chose to live as though in the 19th century as an experiment and a showcase. The deception is kept up closely even though there are false mirrors and microphones around. Originally, modern medicines were supplied where needed but they have been stopped, and the children of the village will die if Jessie doesn't fetch help from the outside world.


Literary: Nothing out of the ordinary in terms of style or vocabulary. The story is told from the third-person point of view of Jessie, a thirteen-year-old who has lived all her life in the 1830s, and who has to come to terms with the novelties of the late twentieth century. The transition is handled competently though not brilliantly.

The premise is interesting, rather like combining The Truman Show (a film in which every detail of one man's life is broadcast on TV without his knowing) with the 1900 House (a TV series in which a family volunteers to live in a period house for a month using only the facilities available to people of that era). However, the rest of the story proceeds without excitement and becomes a conventional kid-beats-bad-businessmen story, with the interesting twist at the end as to who is responsible for any harm which has come to the children.

Good & Evil: The businessmen who set up the village clearly had and have a darker ulterior motive in which the people of the village are merely the experimental subjects. As to the actions of the people themselves, see the discussion points below for a broader treatment.

General: Personally, I applaud the attempt to create an interesting dilemma which is realistic if not in fact real. While there are more than enough questions to be asked in our everyday life, all too often issues are created in fantastic or technological ways that are at best far-fetched and at worst philosophical nonsense. (eg If I go back in time, am I allowed to marry my own mother and become my own father? If I turn into an animal but retain my human reason, am I absolved from my moral responsibilities as a human being?)

“You have to reserve the lookouts way in advance, because anthropologists are beginning to flock to Clifton for those spots. It's a wonderful perspective on a primitive culture,” Mrs Spurning said.

Jessie glowered. Primitive culture! She'd like to see Mrs Spurning work like Ma or any other woman in Clifton. As far as she could see, all Mrs Spurning could do was talk. Jessie wanted to yell at Mrs Spurning, as she had at the boy in the blacksmith shop

Thursday 21st August 2003