Monday, March 7, 2011

Review - The Running Dream

Wendelin Van Draanen
Knopf Books for Young Readers
Jessica is a runner. It's what she does and who she is, but all that comes to an end when the bus carrying her and her track team crashes and Jessica loses a leg. She has to relearn everything. She used to be on her way to a track scholarship, but now she can't even walk. This book is unlike any I've read before. It follows Jessica in the year following her accident, from the time in the hospital when her amputated leg is still in bandages, through learning to walk on crutches and later with her prosthetic leg. It follows her track team as they try to raise money for a "running leg" so that she can run again and eventually rejoin the team. Without running, or her leg, many things in Jessica's life change, most notably her feelings toward others. Suddenly having a disability herself makes her view the girl in math class who has cerebral palsy in a different light and the two become friends. When the guy she's had a crush on forever suddenly starts talking to her she doesn't feel right about it, thinking that he feels sorry for her now that she only has one leg.

Jessica has conflicting and confusing reactions to many of the events in her story and I found this to be very authentic. There are moments here, especially in the more introspective moments of the novel, that are incredibly powerful and thought-provoking. However, some of the other characters were less realistic and I wished that the personality of the boy Jessica had a crush on had came through more clearly in the beginning and middle of the story instead of waiting until the end. I understand that Jessica had trouble trusting him -- or anyone, really -- after she lost her leg, but as a reader it pulled me out of the story and made it difficult to like the characters and their relationships much as I wanted to.

The theme of seeing the person, not the disability is a strong one here and for the most part I loved it. Jessica's journey is shown in a very realistic light (this, of course, coming from someone who knows nothing about prosthetic limbs or amputations), but her growing friendship with a girl who has cerebral palsy seemed a bit heavy-handed at times. While the progression of their friendship was well-written and understandable, the theme of acceptance felt pushed a bit too much at times and there were moments when I wished it would ease up. Because, really, this is a great story that gets the message across strongly enough on its own.

This is definitely a book I'd recommend, not only because it deals with an issue I haven't seen handled in YA before, but also because it's very well-written with moments of incredible power. Especially great for readers who are interested in the subject matter or wanting to read a sports-themed book.


  1. I really liked this book a lot, especially for the issues it raises (and there is more than one, I'd say).

  2. I had to read this book for a class, and expected it to be dull or boring. I was surprised when it was actually very good. I especially like how easy it was to connect with. I've never had a medical problem like this, but the realistic thought process of the girl still allowed me to really connect with it. All in all a very good book.