I would probably not have know of the existence of The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen if it were not for Emily at Lirbrarified. She presented the book at a workshop I attended over the summer and sung its praises so highly I had to read it. With the books less than flashy cover and fairly innocuous title I can see how many might overlook it. Which is sad because it really is a lovely story and an engrossing. read.
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Jessica thinks her life is over when she loses a leg in a car accident. She's not comforted by the news that she'll be able to walk with the help of a prosthetic leg. Who cares about walking when you live to run? As she struggles to cope with crutches and a first cyborg-like prosthetic, Jessica feels oddly both in the spotlight and invisible. People who don't know what to say, act like she's not there. Which she could handle better if she weren't now keenly aware that she'd done the same thing herself to a girl with CP named Rosa. A girl who is going to tutor her through all the math she's missed. A girl who sees right into the heart of her. With the support of family, friends, a coach, and her track teammates, Jessica may actually be able to run again. But that's not enough for her now. She doesn't just want to cross finish lines herself—she wants to take Rosa with her.
I don't run. In fact, I'm one of those people who believes runners are crazy people. I had no trouble relating to Jessica and her struggle though. This may have been because I am active in other types of fitness and I had an injured foot while I was reading this. One day with no exercise and my cells felt like they were trying to crawl out of my body. While my very minor in comparison to Jessica's problem may have helped with my empathy it was mostly the craft of the author that had me feeling for her. The book covers eight months of her journey and covers the first few days in the hospital to her return home and flirtation with overdoing the narcotics to her return to school to her getting her first prosthesis and beyond. It is a gripping story and that is because from the beginning you feel for Jessica. What is brilliant about the way it is written is that you don't really feel sorry for her. I felt a great deal of empathy and sympathy but not pity. I just wanted to cheer her on. I really felt that every stage of her recovery was handled well. The emotions and conflicts a person in this situation would feel were displayed without getting too gritty and detailed. It was paced well and, I thought, realistically. I don't know anyone who has gone through a similar situation but I can see how a person in good physical condition with loving and supportive family and friends could make the strides Jessica makes in the time she makes them. It is plain that Van Draanen did her research and knew the subject she was writing about well.
My own small complaint would be that everything was almost a little too perfect and tied up in the end. That's probably because I am far too cynical.
This is a Young Adult book but one that is perfect for middle grades as well. It is a good story about friendship and perseverance in hard times.