Title: The Running Dream
Author: Wendelin van Draanen
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2011
Jessica is an all-star runner, on track to really make a name for herself in the sport, until a horrific bus accident takes away one of the most important things for her: her right leg. Now, she is unable to walk well, let alone run. At first she is in a very dark place, sulky and heartbroken. But eventually she realizes she needs to get back out in the world, and get moving again.
Told in the present tense, Jessica tells her story to the readers as it happens to her. She tells us about her rehabilitation, getting her prosthesis (fake leg), and the incredible support she receives from her teammates and peers, as well as her community at large. She also makes an unlikely friend in Rosa, a freshman with cerebral palsy who has difficulty communicating and needs a wheelchair to move, but who is brilliant at math. Jessica's journey of healing both physically and mentally brings together not only the people in her school to fight for her cause, it also unites her community around her goals.
Wendelin van Draanen's writing is incredibly realistic, and it is clear she did her research. Never was I left thinking something didn't sound right or feel unsure about the medical issues, the track lingo, or the problems that Jessica's family had with insurance. Everything felt authentic, including Jessica's struggle to accept this drastic change to her life and move on. She not only had to deal with the future of her running career, but also the day-to-day difficulties and worries, like if boys would ever find her attractive now.
I really appreciated the inclusion of Rosa in this book. van Draanen could have easily focused on Jessica and her recovery alone, but Rosa adds so much more complexity and richness to the story. Rosa often writes Jessica philosophical notes, which often ground her and help her to realize what she does have instead of what she's lost. The most important message we come out with is that we need to see the person, and not the condition.
Bonus: Oscar Pistorius is briefly mentioned, which I found really great since I had been thinking about him a lot while reading this because of his competing in the Olympics this year.
This was a great, realistic, inspirational read about overcoming seemingly impossible odds to meet your goals and to truly appreciate what you are given.
Disclosure: I got this book from the library.
Note: I started to listen to this on audio, and let me save you the time: Don't bother. I thought it was horrible and had to stop a few tracks in. I just couldn't stand listening to the woman narrating; it felt like she was overacting, plus she kept raising her inflection at the end of almost every sentence.