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35 pages 1 hour read

Margaret Peterson Haddix

Running Out Of Time

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 1995

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Running Out of Time is a 1995 young adult suspense novel by American author Margaret Peterson Haddix. It tells the story of Jessie Keyser, a young girl who believes she is living in 1800s Indiana, only to discover that in reality it is 1996. When a diphtheria epidemic strikes her small town of Clifton, she must venture out into the modern world to save her friends. Haddix also authored the critically acclaimed YA thriller series The Greystone Secrets and The Missing.

Plot Summary

Jessie Keyser lives in Clifton, Indiana, a small village on the American frontier in what she believes in 1840. One night, she helps her mother, the village midwife, treat two sick children. Many children have been getting sick lately. When Ma asks Jessie to secretly meet her the next night at a hidden rock, Jessie is suspicious. Ma then reveals that the year is actually 1996 and that the sick children have a disease called diphtheria. Clifton is really a historical preserve where the villagers are not allowed to leave or receive modern medicine, while tourists watch them via hidden cameras and two-way mirrors. Ma asks Jessie to sneak out of Clifton through a rock which hides a trapdoor and find a payphone. She gives Jessie the number of a man named Isaac Neeley who Ma believes will help secure medicine and report the Clifton founders to the board of health. Despite the risk of violent capture and punishment, Jessie agrees. Her little sister, Katie, has recently become sick herself.

When she makes her way through the trapdoor, Jessie finds the Clifton tourist site and blends in by pretending to be a touring student. There is modern lighting, photos, and her former neighbors on the monitors projecting footage from hidden cameras. Outside, Jessie sees cars and buses for the first time. She remembers that cameras and guards are everywhere; she must be cautious. Jessie hides in the back of a bread truck and then escapes the truck by running and hiding in a ditch. She eats the lunch Ma packed for her in a small bag that contains a wallet with some money and old photos.

Next, Jessie meets an environmentalist who warns her not to drink the contaminated creek water and directs her to the nearest gas station. She buys a drink and finds a payphone where she tries dialing Mr. Neeley; she gets no answer. Ma has told her that Miles Clifton, the founder of the village, has men working for him everywhere. When a strange man bumps into her on purpose, Jessie becomes suspicious and runs away. She walks for miles in search of another phone when two scary young men try to kidnap her.

She runs away from the boys and spots a KFC with a phone. She dials Neeley again. He agrees to help and picks her up from the KFC. All his questions make her uneasy, but she goes with him to his apartment. He gives her a glass of water and has her rest while he makes calls. Jessie remembers the contaminated water from the creek and tosses the water out the window. She spies on Neeley’s phone call and overhears him say that Jessie needs to die because she knows too much. Jessie also learns that the water was drugged and meant to put her to sleep. She escapes through the bedroom window and boards a bus to Indianapolis. On the bus, she meets a friendly woman named Mrs. Tyndale, who tells her how to call the board of health and how to hold a news conference. In the capitol building, Jessie calls the board of health but is not taken seriously. She tries calling the news station and manages to get a few reporters to hear her story. However, she quickly collapses from diphtheria herself.

While recovering in the hospital, Jessie learns from Bob, one of the reporters, that the Clifton tourist site was a cover for a biological experiment. It was meant to introduce different diseases into the village population to build generational immunity. Isaac Neeley is actually a scientist named Frank Lyle and was running the entire operation. Eventually, the adults involved in the Clifton experiment are arrested, and Jessie is reunited with her family. They move back to Clifton to help with the family transition back into modern society.

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