Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Running Dream

The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen.  Grades 7+  Knopf Books for Young Readers, January 2011.  336 pages.  Reviewed from ARC snagged at ALA.

I am a runner. 
That's what I do. 
That's who I am. 
Running is all I know, or want, or care about...
Running aired out my soul. 
It made me feel alive
And now? 
I'm stuck in this bed, knowing I'll never run again. (pg 6)

When an uninsured truck driver plows into the track team's school bus, Jessica's right leg is smashed beyond repair, requiring a below-the-knee amputation.  In the days after the accident, Jessica can't imagine walking again, let alone running, but with the help of her determined friends and family, she just might make it back on the track.  The Running Dream chronicles the months after the accident as Jessica returns to school, figures out a prosthetic leg, and slowly regains hope for the future.

If I were to describe this book in one word, it would be "uplifting".  Jessica's story is one of hope, of friends and family coming together to help, and of possibilities.  It's about small victories and large victories and making the world a better place.

Right from the start, I was attached to Jessica.  Her complete despair about never being able to run again leaped off the page and pierced me.  Even though I had only known Jessica for a few pages, her pain was so real that I immediately sympathized with her.  I wanted to know what would happen, where she would go, and how she would get her life back.

Wendelin Van Draanen takes us on that journey with Jessica, managing to explain the intricacies of prosthesis and physical therapy in an organic way that educates the reader without taking us out of the story.  Along the way, Jessica befriends Rosa, a girl with cerebral palsy whom she had always ignored before, and the book has a positive message of seeing people, not their disabilities.

If I have a criticism, it would be that Jessica's path actually seemed to be a little too easy.  Certainly she's working her butt off, and it takes the herculean efforts of her friends and family to get her where she's going.  But I kept waiting for her to falter, for the family to have to deal with their devastating financial situation, for her to fall down, and it didn't happen.  After Jessica wallows for a bit in the beginning, she's pretty much go-go-go until the end.  And that's nice, in a way - it makes for a very nice story with a nice positive "You Can Do It!" message.  But it didn't feel completely realistic.

However, there is definitely an audience for You Can Do It! stories.  Young readers will be rooting for Jessica the whole way through.

This is a great choice for fans of Kelly Bingham's Shark Girl (thanks, Kelly, for the idea!) and I'd hand this one to fans of medical stories like Cold Hands, Warm Heart by Jill Wolfson.  I think fans of sports stories like Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock will dig it, too.

Ooh, and one last thing.  A note on the cover.  I LOVE it.  It's clean and bright, just like the book.  The running shoes (and title) immediately clue you in to what the story's about.  I think it's cute how the shoelaces go up to make the R in "Running".  And you can't tell from this image, but on my ARC the words of the title are a little bit smudged, like someone tried to wipe them out but couldn't.  Perfect!

The Running Dream is on shelves now!