Friday, August 19, 2011

The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen

Jessica Carlisle is a runner. Correction. Jessica Carlisle was a runner. After a tragic accident in which the bus she was on was struck by an uninsured driver and one member of her school's running team is killed, Jessica awakes to learn that she has lost the lower part of her right leg. Running was her dream. She lived and breathed running. Now as a BK (below knee) amputee Jessica believes her life as she knew it is over. Jessica is scared, angry and filled with revulsion at her "ugly, useless" stump.
At first she really does believe her life has changed for the worse. But her doctor explains how she will be fitted with a special prosthesis that will enable her to walk again. We learn along with Jessica how this will be accomplished.
What ends up motivating Jessica however, is the discovery that it might be possible for her to run again with a specially designed prosthesis. Her coach, Kyro shows her videos on YouTube of Oscar Pistorius, a 400-meter sprinter and a double below-knee amputee. The only problem is that such an artificial limb is expensive. Jessica's school running team however, is determined to help her overcome this obstacle and to that end, they form a Help Jessica Run campaign to raise the funds.

Eventually with the support of her best friend Fiona, her parents, her track coach Kyro and the community, Jessica comes to terms with her limitations, pushes beyond them and realizes her dream of running again. But it is really her friendship with Rosa, a special needs student in her math class who helps Jessica most. Rosa who is confined to a wheel chair not only helps Jessica with her math homework but also helps her to focus on the immediate and to meet each challenge as it arises.

The Running Dream is an outstanding young adult novel that is much more than just a story about a girl trying to run again. The Running Dream focuses on how we view others. After her accident Jessica view of herself has changed. She sees herself as a freak and a stranger. She defines herself by her condition - that of an amputee. But gradually as Jessica reintegrates into school and then when she gets her prosthetic limb, she feels less defined by her condition and more able to see herself as normal again. When Jessica befriends Rosa, who has cerebral palsy, she begins to see Rosa herself instead of her condition - a person in a wheelchair. Prior to her accident Jessica never even noticed Rosa. She comes to the realization that Rosa is not her condition. Rosa is smart at math and she offers Jessica a different perspective on finishing a race - that the finish line can also be another starting line.

Another aspect of this book that I really enjoyed was how the author divided up the book into 5 sections based on running. They are aptly titled Finish Line, Headwind, Straightaway, Adjusting the Blocks and Starting Line.

Book Details:
The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen 2011
Alfred A. Knopf
332 pp.

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