The Running Dream - by Wendelin Van Draanen
"The first run I did after reading this book was so much fun."
I am a runner. So is Jessica Carlisle, the main character in The Running Dream. I still have both my legs. Jessica does not. As the back of the book asks, " What would you do if you lost the one thing that mattered most? Because running is a lifestyle - and you can't run with only one leg. Draanen, though she has both legs, is a runner, and she succeeds in capturing the spirit of running, as well as the depth of Jessica's devastation.
Jessica Carlisle is a track star at Liberty High. On the way back from a long Saturday track meet, her bus crashes and her leg has to be amputated. She is confused, upset, angry, sad, and everything in between. Jessica has a lot of trouble trying to relate to people; even just talking to them is difficult and upsetting. This is the story of her journey out of the abyss, which she describe as "winter" and "wonders how long it will be." Along the way, Rosa, the girl in the wheelchair at the back of math class; Fiona, her best friend; Gavin, her on-again, off-again love interest; and the entire track team helps her.
The story line is good, but a little predictable. However, the lack of twists and turns is made up by the quick pace of the book. Moreover, the balance in the book between friendships, romance, and funning is great, making for a really interesting read that pulls you in. The book is divided into five separate parts: Finish Line, Headwind, Straightway, Adjusting the Blocks and Starting Line. This helps to differentiate the parts of Jessica's story, beginning with the accident, to finish line, and then talking about her difficulties, recovery, preparation, and then . . . well, if I revealed what Starting Line is about, I would ruin the novel. This way of organizing the book is pretty neat, because runners can relate to it, and it's a nice metaphor to compare Jess's journey to.
I really liked Jess as a character. She was genuine. She wasn't one of those heroines who take their lot in stride, never one complaining or being snippy. She definitely had her moments, and she had to focus to get past her anger and frustration, just like any normal high schooler would. Draanen is able to capture the conflicting emotions of teens, who never seem to be able to explain their emotions themselves.
The storyline about Gavin is perfect, where she balances the jealousy, confusion, denial, and other feelings that come with teen crushes. Jessica's second guessing over Gavin reminded me of emotions I've felt over guys though she handled it better, particularly when she believed he was in love with Fiona, her best friend. Fiona will make you question how much you'd do for a bestie if she was grumpy and whining all the time. Fiona never gets fed up. But it's Rose who shows Jess how lucky she is, teaching lessons all the time, not only math lessons, but more importantly life lessons that form the core of Jessica's recovery.
I got chill bumps when reading this. I felt that feeling you get when you're cheering on a teammate or egging yourself around the next bend. This book inspired me, made me want to wake up at 5:45 every morning and go for a run, like Jess does. The first run I did after reading this book was so much fun. I was happy to be able to run and to be outside and active and alive. Now when I go on a run and it gets tough, I think about the character of Jessica and what she went through.