Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen

The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen begins when Jessica wakes up in the hospital after having her leg amputated below the knee following a car accident on the way home from a tournament. This would be devastating for any teenager, but it is particularly horrific for Jessica, a girl whose life revolves around running. If she can't run anymore, she think she would have been better off dying in the accident like another member of her track team did. It doesn't matter that she'll be able to walk again with the help of a prosthetic leg, walking doesn't matter when your whole life is running. As Jessica learns to adjust to life without her leg, she finds herself but ignored and the center of attention at the same time. One person who knows how she feels is Rosa, a girl with CP in her math class who's helping her with all the math she missed. Maybe with some help form her family, friends, coach and teammates Jessica can cross finish lines again- and maybe she can take Rosa with her.

I have read Van Draanen before, both Flipped and at least one Sammy Keyes book I believe, but it hasn't been since I was in elementary school I believe. So how does she stack up a decade later? Better than I remember actually. Although I do remember Flipped being a cute book, in The Running Dream Van Draanen tackles a big issue when she makes her main character a teenage girl who has lost their leg, and she does it with strength and inspiration.

Jessica is an incredibly realistic main character and she's also a great role model but she's not perfect. She's strong and inspiring but she also gets grumpy and bitter, and Van Draanen makes it clear what an important role supporting friends and family play in Jessica's recovery. The fact that Jessica has a best friend, Fiona, who is there with her, pushing her but also supporting her, was something I found refreshing. I find quite often main characters going through a tragedy in YA literature are completely abandoned by their friends and it was nice to read a book where the characters had a true, strong, friendship with a great girl who was a positive influence on her. I also felt many of the other secondary characters, in particular Jessica's family, were really authentic. Her younger sister was frustrated with Jessica's moodiness but also also really proud of her accomplishments, while her dad and mom struggle both financially and emotionally while always supporting Jessica but trying to be realistic.

Although I appreciated the theme in The Running Dream of seeing a person and not their disability I did feel that at times Van Draanen pushed the Rosa storyline too far and wished for a little more subtlety in that regard. Rosa is clearly an inspiration, but portions of the book involving her sometimes were a bit heavy-handed, veering dangerously into motivational speech territory, especially when it comes to the ending. I also wasn't sold on Jessica's relationship with her long-time crush, they were cute but I never really felt a true connection between them. There were also two loose ends, both involving money storylines, that were left unresolved at the end of the novel when I had hoped for a little more closure.

As a whole, Van Draanen has done a fantastic job with The Running Dream. The book begins with short chapters, and although they become longer later I felt it did a really good job of representing the ups and downs that Jessica felt. Unsurprisingly, it was also a very emotional read, there is one scene where Jessica gives herself a shower that really stuck with me in particular- a strong reminder of the things that so many people take forgranted. Ultimately, The Running Dream is successful because of authentic characters, clear writing, and the uplifting way in which Van Draanen tackles a serious and important topic.

Release Date: January 11th, 2011
Pages: 336
: Publisher

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1 comment:

  1. That's a good break down. I enjoyed the relationship between Gavin and Jessica but it did seem a little rushed, almost?. I thought the rest of the book was awesome, and it really sucked me in. :)


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