Book Review: The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen

8354134The Running Dream By Wendelin Van Draanen

I really enjoyed Van Draanen’s book Flipped, and therefore was looking forward to reading The Running Dream. It is our community reads season, and it is a book about running. I would like to have a good book that showcases some sort of sport on the long list and well, you all know my fondness for running.

Here’s the story:

Jessica, 16, is an up and coming track star. She’s focussed, fast and talented. Running is her life. Until her team’s bus is hit by an out of control truck and she loses a leg. Jessica needs to find it within herself to accept her new reality. She is having a hard time with it until her running coach shows her some videos of one legged athletes racing with prosthetics. Is it possible she could run again?

A sub-plot to this pretty generic, overcoming adversity story is that Jessica befriends a girl in her math class who has cerebral palsy, a girl she has hitherto ignored. As she is coping with the judgments other people make when they see her, she is realising that she had been guilty of the same thing with Rosa. Now her dream is not only about running again, but helping her new friend in her dream to be seen for who she is not for her disability.

This book read like an after school special. Jessica gets into  bad accident. After a bit of feeling sorry for herself, she manages to pick herself up and deal with her new reality. Then comes the goal. Enter the work out montage, the supportive friends, the odd bitchy comments from her shallow peers. A dash of someone worse off than you, a pinch of charitable feeling and a soupcon of an altruistic agenda and voilà! You have an entirely predictable and unbelievable story.

Here are my problems with it (and warning- there are spoilers):

1. I felt like Jessica’s timeline of acceptance and recovery was rushed and not credible. Jessica does not take very long to go from denial and depression to a CAN DO! attitude.  In fact, I think the whole book would have been more interesting if the author had just stuck to this part. How do you pick yourself up after such a tragedy? How much anger and loss and grief would you feel? How do you figure out how to face the world again? These are interesting questions that are not given their due.

2. Written in the first person, her interior monologue quickly becomes unbelievable. I am thinking of a passage where she snarks out at her mom and then feels guilty. I also feel like Jessica is way too able to let people know how she feels, that the dialogue is too explanatory instead of revelatory of the character. It reads like a stilted script.

3. I would have liked to have some sort of resolution regarding the financial troubles and insurance claims her accident caused for her family. This part was interesting- how nobody wanted to foot the bill for what happened.  And yet, while her family is fighting against bankruptcy while they wait for the dispute over their claim to resolve, her team is raising money to buy her a fancy running prosthetic.

4.  The ending, where she runs the 10 mile race while pulling Rosa seems to do the exact opposite of what Jessica supposedly intends, which is to make people see Rosa for who she is and not her disability. Yet Rosa is just the girl in the wheel chair sitting passively while her AMAZINGLY RESILIENT! friend Jessica pushes her. How exactly does this make people see Rosa as a real individual? It seems to me that the only way you could do that is by having people actually talk to her, not festoon her wheel chair  with balloons and flags, and have her pushed in the November cold by a one-legged girl.

However, Van Draanen’s description of the beginning of the race was very accurate. I recognised the wait, the crowd, the feeling of anticipation and adrenaline. However, I expected more from Van Draanen after the brilliantly rendered, nuanced portrayal of two teens’ point of view in Flipped.

I would also like to point out that my opinion seems to be the minority. Two teachers whom I respect recommended this title to me and, looking at the reviews on Goodreads, most are positive.


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