Graham McNamee


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Acceleration Summary

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Published in 2005, Acceleration is a young adult thriller by Graham McNamee. Set in contemporary Toronto, the story follows 17-year-old Duncan as he finds a disturbing diary and attempts to follow the clues inside to catch a serial killer. A Toronto native, McNamee is the author of eight young adult novels. Acceleration has won several awards, including the Governor General’s Award and an Arthur Ellis Award. His other novels have also accumulated several awards, including the ALA Best Book for Young Adults award, the Austrian Children’s Book Award, and the PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship.

Seventeen-year-old Duncan lives in “the Jungle,” the inner city of Toronto, Canada. After a failed attempt to steal an expensive toilet (which he and his best friend Wayne hoped to sell for cash), Duncan is sentenced to community service at the Transit Authority. Now he is spending his summer days sorting through dusty boxes of worthless junk in the Lost and Found room.

One day, he uncovers a leather-bound diary. As he begins to read, it quickly becomes apparent that the diary is no ordinary keepsake. Detailed inside is a long history of crimes, such as arson and animal mutilation, beginning from when the author was young and progressing forward in time. The author expresses boredom with “little crimes” and wishes to do something big.

As Duncan continues reading, he finds a train schedule, as well as a detailed list of the travel habits of several women. He begins to suspect that the “something big” the author has planned will involve these women as the victims. After a bit of research reveals that serial killers often start with animal mutilation and arson, Duncan believes the author to be a budding serial killer. He dubs the author “Roach” and determines to find out who the person is.

Because some of the details in the diary match a recent case of arson that occurred in Duncan’s neighborhood, he suspects Roach must also live in the Jungle. To help narrow it down, he decides to find one of the women listed in the diary, who Roach nicknamed Cherry for her red hair. When he sees that she actually does exist, Duncan tries to follow her to determine if anyone near her home fits the profile of a serial killer. Instead, he only succeeds in scaring her.

Realizing that he might be out of his league, Duncan takes the journal to the police, but because he is a juvenile delinquent, they do not take him seriously. Next, he enlists the help of Wayne and another friend, Vinny. Vinny cross references animal mutilations and arson cases and hypothesizes that Roach could be living in Wilson Heights, Cherry’s neighborhood. Since FBI profiles state serial killers are typically males who target their own race, they believe Roach is a white man, and more clues in the diary lead them to believe that he lives with his grandmother.

Inside the diary, the boys also find a receipt from a hardware store.  Because the receipt shows an employee discount, they go to the hardware store to see if they can profile Roach from the store’s employees. None of the employees fit the description, however, so they turn their attention to the store’s security staff and come up with two suspects: a skinny, young man they nickname Red and a muscular man they call Jumbo.

The next day, they return to the hardware store as it is closing. Duncan follows Jumbo while Vinny tails Red. The diary specifies that Roach prefers the front train compartment, so when Jumbo chooses the middle compartment, Duncan has doubts that he is their unknown serial killer. His doubts only grow when Jumbo meets up with his girlfriend, since FBI profiles specify that serial killers are typically single. Later, Duncan compares notes with Vinny, who believes Red is not their suspect either because he lives with his wife, two kids, and dog outside Wilson Heights.

As more of their clues lead to dead ends, they get a break one day when a man in thick glasses arrives at the Lost and Found looking for a leather-bound diary. Duncan lies to the man, saying nothing matching that description was turned in, and then proceeds to follow him all the way to a house in Wilson Heights. He waits until the man leaves again, and then calls Wayne to come pick the lock on the house.

Once inside, Duncan and Wayne are startled by an old woman, but she is deaf and does not notice them. This scare proves too much for Wayne, and he leaves. Duncan proceeds into the basement of the house, where he finds formaldehyde-filled jars containing gruesome animal parts and pictures of women all over the walls. Just as he is about to flee, he sees a door with a slot on the bottom. Opening the door, he finds a bare room with only a bucket, and he notices that the slot is just the right size for a plate of food. It dawns on him: he is standing in a cell.

Suddenly Duncan hears Roach returning, so he hides in the cell. Roach quickly notices that someone has been in his basement, but as he goes to the cell, Duncan throws his weight against the door, knocking Roach down. Duncan runs, and Roach pursues. The pair race out of the house and all the way to the train station, where Roach finally traps Duncan.

As an oncoming train approaches, Roach tries to push Duncan onto the tracks. Duncan resists, and both fall to the tracks. Duncan manages to roll away just in time, but Roach is killed by the train. Later, police question Duncan about the incident and ask why he was being chased by Roach. Duncan says that he does not know why Roach was chasing him, but suspects that he wanted to mug him.