Well, of course, Wendelin Van Draanen is a runner … and she pours that experienced mileage into the rousing Running Dream, her latest stand-alone young adult novel (‘stand-alone’ because she’s also the author of the popular bestselling Sammy Keyes and Shredderman series!). Van Draanen is also a running activist, by the way, reading and running Exercise the Right to Read.
So some of you know that I’ve been training for two years for Leadville 100 this August (*GASP*), and am running on behalf of 10×10 | Educate Girls, Change the World. This time last week, I attempted a 50-mile race (crazy mudfest it turned out to be) as ‘practice,’ and took along Dream stuck to my ears (Laura Flanagan’s narration is a bit too ‘valley-girl,’ but Dream is definitely one of those titles you should read any way you can). Of course, I took a tumble within the first 10 minutes, but Dream (and pure adrenaline) kept me going for another 27 miles … I couldn’t get to the finish line on that bum ankle, alas, but Jessica’s triumphs were assuredly motivating and moving. Literally.
Sixteen-year-old Jessica Carlisle never imagined that breaking the high school league record for the 400-meter race would to be “the last race of [her] life.” But too soon after her victory, a tragic school bus accident kills one runner, and leaves Jessica without a leg. “I am a runner. That’s what I do. That’s who I am,” she mourns. “Running is all I know, or want, or care about … It made me feel alive. And now? I’m stuck in this bed, knowing I’ll never run again.”
But, of course, that’s not the way things turn out. ‘Never’ is way too long to keep a great runner down. While her family and friends are wonderfully supportive, Jessica herself must do the hard work to recover and become mobile again. Unexpectedly, her greatest inspiration comes from a surprising new ally, someone who Jessica never really knew before the accident – Rosa, a young math genius, who lives life strapped to a wheelchair because of cerebral palsy. Besides the much-needed tutoring in dreaded algebra II/trig, Rosa teaches Jessica the most unforgettable lesson of all: her wish “‘[t]hat people would see me, not my condition.‘”
Van Draanen captures Jessica’s journey with just the right balance of humor (people “‘putting their foot in their mouth’”) and challenging reality (Jessica’s parents’ legal and financial difficulties). Peripheral narrative strands – the late teammate’s parents, a less-than-gracious losing competitor, a tenacious reporter, teenage love lives – enhance and enrich Jessica’s central story.
Indeed, Van Draanen well knows it takes a village to raise a fallen runner to new heights, but getting over the finish line might well mean pushing someone else ahead … which makes me even more grateful for my own fabulously encouraging ‘Team Terry‘ who will help me give girls’ education a boost come August 19! But first, I’ll need to get off this couch, ahem, and get back to my own running dream!
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult