The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen [website]
Publication Date: January 11, 2011
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Pages: 240 Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: track runner, prosthetic leg, dreams that change
Format Read: Purchased hardcover copy.
Summary: Jessica’s dreams of attending college on a track scholarship are shattered after she loses part of her leg in a bus accident on the way home from a track meet, leaving her uninsured parents with medical bills they cannot pay.
It’s time to step away from the current releases and focus on one that you could easily find at your local library without the super long wait list. In the midst of our move, my goal became to read physical books on my shelves so I could pass them along to another avid reader. The Running Dream has fantastic ratings on Goodreads and I was so intrigued by the summary.
Jessica is a high school track star. In an early-season track meet, she breaks her personal record and beats her greatest competitor in the 400m race. The school bus is involved in a major accident on the way home. One of her young teammates dies; Jessica loses part of her leg. The Running Dream is composed of different parts that dictate the struggles she faces — the realization that she’s not going to be a runner again when she first wakes up in the hospital, going home and having to return to school, seeing her friends continue to participate in track, and learning how to walk with a prosthetic leg.
Van Draanen told Jessica’s story in such a relatable way that allowed me to completely empathize with Jessica but still breeze through the story at a rapid pace. The chapters are short and very intentional, the story progressing and moving forward, allowing for a lot of time to pass throughout the story. One minor quip I had was the running analogies made at the end of each chapter that sometimes seemed a little unnecessary, but definitely drove the point home.
The strongest aspect of The Running Dream is what happens beyond Jessica’s personal growth. There’s a lot of exploration about how we perceive people and how other people see us. Jessica feels broken and questions people’s intentions when they want to hang out with her. She begins to feel like a charity case. But her accident also causes her to befriend people she wouldn’t have ordinarily noticed and that leads to this awesome conclusion to the story that isn’t really about Jessica at all. She goes through such a powerful internal transformation, and really, the end is what made the entire book for me because it left me feeling empowered.
If you’re looking for something that’s outside of your normal realm and features a character with struggles you may not have faced in your young adult reading ventures, check out The Running Dream. Aside from all the goodness I’ve discussed above, you’ll also get a lovely helping of a strong, strong best friendship and a super sweet love interest.