The Running Dream

The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen made me want to run more. It’s an invigorating YA novel, and, yes, a fast read.

Just as high school runner Jessica is hitting her stride, the unthinkable happens. On the way home from a track meet, the team’s van is struck by another vehicle, killing one runner and leaving Jessica with life-threatening injuries that require her right leg to be amputated. The story shows her struggle to overcome her depression, retain her identity as a runner, and ultimately, get back on the track.

Early on in the book Jessica pushes away her friends and family. She is understandably shattered … her dreams broken in the crash, her normal life turned upside down. In Chapter 2, she says, “Running aired out my soul. It made me feel alive. And now? I’m stuck in this bed, knowing I’ll never run again.”

She’s not even sure she wants to try again, until she meets Rosa, a girl in her math class who has cerebral palsy, a girl no one has ever noticed. Rosa inspires Jessica to take another look at what might be possible, and Jessica begins to believe that maybe she could one day “sail over the dots of blooming clover” again.

The book does a good job of explaining how a prosthetic leg is fitted, put on, and worn. We get a glimpse of the measuring, the adjusting, and the learning curve that comes with using an artificial limb. Van Draanen also helps us understand the kind of physical therapy an amputee must do daily to ensure the stump stays healthy enough for a prosthesis.

With the help of her best friend, the school newspaper reporter (also her crush), her track coach and team, and her family, Jessica learns that losing her leg doesn’t mean giving up on dreams. It just means the dreams change.

Jessica’s voice reminds me of when I was a teenager, all the angst, the doubt, the confidence, the love, all rolled into one. The writing puts you right there – you feel the stares as Jessica returns to school for the first time, you hear the whispers when she shows friends her new leg, you feel her heartbeat when the boy walks up to her during lunch.

In the final chapter, Jessica looks back and then looks forward. She’s counting “one plus one plus one plus one. Somewhere in my fuzzy mind I made a connection – that’s how everything is done. One by one by one by one. … That’s how anybody makes it through anything.

“My ones are a distance between me and victory, not days between me and tragedy.”

I was a bit distracted by the blossoming romance. I felt it was unnecessary and detracted from Jessica’s strength. Don’t get me wrong; I like romance. I just didn’t understand why she needed one to prove she was a whole person despite losing a leg. However, I get that teen crushes appeal to teen readers.

If you’re a runner or want to be, you’ll enjoy this book. If you’re facing challenges and feel overwhelmed by the odds, you might find some inspiration here. I loved this book. And when I don’t feel like running, I think about Jessica and others like her and do it anyway.

Tiffani Hill-Patterson is a former sportswriter and copy editor. She played softball in college and still considers herself an athlete. She’s mom to a bionic teen (really!) and is working on more essays and trying fiction.

This post originally appeared at BookendBabes.com.

Growing a reader

(Originally published at Bookend Babes, September 2012. Granma passed away Jan. 8, 2016.)

I’ve always loved to read. Growing up, books and magazines were always lying around at our house. Momma read suspense and romance novels and magazines like Better Homes & Gardens and Woman’s Day. Daddy read Louis L’amour westerns and Field & Stream and Auto Trader. And they still enjoy getting lost in a good story.

However, it was Granma who let me into the world of grown-up reading. She always kept a stack of magazines by her bed, and when I’d spend the night with her in the summer during my tween years, I would read through them all. Cosmopolitan. Glamour. New Woman. Mademoiselle. The National Enquirer. And seed catalogs. Granma has always had the greenest thumb ever, and she grew the biggest, prettiest zinnias and the most red, ripe tomatoes. I’d stay up late reading then get up early and pick beans and shuck corn with the rest of the family.

Back then the late Helen Gurley Brown ran Cosmo and it was about finding yourself before finding a man. I read mostly the career and fashion articles (I wanted to be a well-dressed novelist), but occasionally I’d pore over a more adult piece. Back then, I felt like I knew way more than my sixth-grade classmates did after reading Cosmo. (I may have had the knowledge, but I sure didn’t know how to put it into practice.)

When I got a little older, I moved on to Granma’s novels. The first one she and I both read and shared a love for was Gone with the Wind. She lent it to me to read over Christmas break during my sophomore year of high school. I couldn’t put that thick, blue paperback down – I stayed up until two in the morning reading about Scarlett and wondering why she couldn’t see that Rhett was The Man. I felt like a grown-up after reading such a long book! And I felt for Scarlett when she had to harvest those potatoes.

The next was the North and South trilogy by John Jakes (Charles was my favorite character), then we moved on to his Crown Family series and the Kent Family Chronicles. Many more followed, such as John Grisham’s lawyer books (we think we might be distant relatives of John’s), the Da Vinci Code, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, a ton of trashy romances by Sandra Brown, a Jackie Collins or two. Rhett Butler’s People was the last book we shared. So it seems we’ve come full circle.

Granma, who just celebrated her 90th birthday, has always been a free spirit. She has always known how to enjoy life. Whether it was seeing Elvis in small-town Alabama, or telling stories while shelling purple-hulled peas, or going out dancing with her boyfriends in her 60s and 70s, she’s always known how to have a ball. And she’s always known how to pick out a great book. I’d like to think I learned that from her.