Thursday, October 3, 2013

Review: The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen

The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: January 11, 2011
Source/Format: Library book!
Page Count: 332
Goodreads & Amazon

When sixteen year old Jessica loses her leg in a bus crash, her life goals shatter right in front of her. She is meant to be a runner. She doesn't just love running, she lives for running. Her junior year and senior year was supposed to be dedicated to getting sports scholarships and beating her personal records with her teammates. It was definitely not supposed to be filled with physical therapy appointments, learning how to live a normal life again, and filled with the lingering dread that she will never be able to run again. But with the help of her best friends, family, teammates, and a classmate with Cerebral Palsy named Rosa, Jessica wonders if the loss of her leg is really the loss of her life, and suddenly the impossible seems possible.

My life is over. Behind the morphine dreams is the nightmare of reality. A reality I can't face. I cry myself back to sleep, wishing, pleading, praying that I'll wake up from this, but the same nightmare always awaits me. "Shhh," my mother whispers, "it'll be okay." But her eyes are swollen and red, and I know she doesn't believe what she's saying. My father--now that's a different story. He doesn't even try to lie to me. What's the use? He knows what this means. My hopes, my dreams, my's over.

I have been seeing this book floating around the internet for a while now and when I went to my neighborhood library and saw it on display brand new, I had to grab it and see what all of the hype was about. The first thing that I loved about this book was how Van Draanen handled Jessica's amputation in a way that forced empathy. I really related to Jessica in that I've had a life-altering, slightly body changing thing happen to me that completely changed a lot of my relationships with people and the way they looked at me. She perfectly captures the awkward stares of Jessica's classmates that are fixated on her stump, and the way Jessica notices that some people pretend to not notice her at all and she becomes invisible. There was even the tense family dynamic of her sister who doesn't quite understand the emotions Jessica is going through, and her parents constant worry and stress over their daughter's well-being, but also how they are going to pay for her medical bills and a shiny, new leg. 

After school I see the track teams loading onto a bus. I stand in the distance and watch, feeling cold and shaky. How can they even get on a bus? I remind myself that it's not their first away meet since the wreck. There have been two of them...For them the memory must be fading. For me it feels like yesterday. And every tomorrow, for as far as I can see.

That being said, I had a hard time figuring out the audience that this book was intended for. Jessica and her classmates are in high school, which is the loose guideline for a book being in the YA genre. I wouldn't be able to lump this novel in with other books in the contemporary YA genre, though. The Running Dream read like it was for a younger audience, with simple language, frequent chapter breaks, and the glossy, best-case-scenario outplay of Jessica's life as a new amputee. The dialogue between Jessica and her super-wonderful best friend Fiona (like really, Fiona is the best friend I wish I had in high school) did not seem true to how teenagers speak to one another. Even though what happens to Jessica is heart wrenching, and we want to believe that everything is butterflies and rainbows after the crash, I found myself not believing that her progress was as easy as it was portrayed to be and didn't seem very realistic. 

...I've never spoken to a grave before. I don't know what to say. I don't know how. "I'm so sorry," I choke out, but that's as far as I get before I start crying. I feel bad that she's gone. I feel overwhelmed. And I feel guilt...Guilt that I'm happy. Guilt that I ever thought she was the lucky one. I can't get the words out, so I just cry. 

Even though the butterflies-and-rainbows nature of this novel did not fully appeal to me, I think there were some strong and beautiful messages within it. I enjoyed the friendship that was formed between Jessica and her classmate Rosa. Rosa blossoms into Jessica's biggest fan and motivator, and it was the scenes between Rosa and Jessica that touched me the most. I also, as corny as it sounds, found myself inspired after reading about Jessica's pure determination to get back into running again, no matter which obstacles were forced her way. And of course, I loved seeing how Jessica started working to eliminate the stigma that surrounded people with disabilities, and forced the public to see her, and Rosa, and other's like them for who they were, not just their disability. 

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Have you read this one? What did you think? 

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