The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen
I was searching for a different book when I stumbled upon this one, and I’m glad I did.
Jessica awakens from a morphine-induced haze to pain in her leg, or what used to be her leg. After surviving an accident that killed one of her teammates, doctors had to amputate her leg below the knee to save her life. She’s alive, but she may never again do what makes her feel most alive: run.
As Jessica adapts to life as an amputee, she clings to the dream that she may walk—and even run—again, but an insurance conflict hampers the family finances. While her track teammates try to make her impossible dream a reality, a new friend, Rosa, helps her with another impossibility—catching up in math.
Rosa’s life with Cerebral Palsy gives Jessica a new perspective on her disability, on feeling simultaneously in the spotlight and invisible. As Jessica continues her rehab, she decides crossing the finish line is no longer enough. This time, she wants to take Rosa with her.
The first-person narration allows readers to experience Jessica’s ups and downs as she recovers. Her initial dejection is understandable, and her insecurities are relatable. The strength and determination she eventually finds propel the story.
While Jessica is three-dimensional and relatable, the remaining cast members are underdeveloped. The story hinges on her relationship with Rosa, but other than learning she is good at math, we learn little about her.
Rosa wants to be seen as more than her disability, but we never learn about her hopes and dreams for the future. Unlike Jessica, we don’t experience her ups and downs. She is never discouraged. She never has a bad day or throws a tantrum or makes a mistake. Instead, she serves as a constant source of support and inspiration, more like a shining light seen from a distance than a real person.
In the author’s defense, all the characters are slimly developed, but Rosa is especially disappointing, because Rosa supposedly changes Jessica’s outlook on life. I would have liked their friendship to have been more developed.
The author sacrificed character development in favor of sticking to a concise, quick-paced plot. I read the entire book in an afternoon, and while I found the storyline moving, I didn’t connect with the characters enough for it to matter.
The plot follows Jessica’s initial adjustment to becoming an amputee, her recovery and adaptation to using a prosthetic, and her inspiration from Rosa. In the beginning, even mundane tasks are huge barriers, but after her initial recovery, things flow smoothly. Too smoothly for my tastes. Her track teammates and classmates are super supportive, and she doesn’t encounter much resistance from any of her teachers either. Everyone is eager to help, which I suppose makes sense, but it gives the cast a kumbaya feel.
In keeping with the tight plot and fast pacing, the author writes in short but effective sentences. Seems fitting for a novel about a track star.
I love that this book emphasizes the power of friendship rather than focusing on disability. Yes, Jessica completes an incredible journey, but the real power of the story is how her friends, teammates, and townsfolk inspire and support one another. I wish the characters had been more developed so that I could truly enjoy their victories, but overall, I loved the book.
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