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 (who just happens to be 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.
The writing puts you there beside Jessica – you feel the stares as she 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.”
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 found myself thinking about Jessica during a recent run – it made me go a little farther than I thought I could.