The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen
Jessica, the best sprinter on her high school track team has just broken the league record in the 400-meter, beating her cross-town rival who is narcissistic snot. But the best day of her life turns into the worst as, on the trip home, the track bus is hit by an uninsured driver. While one of her teammates is killed, Jessica loses her leg below the knee.
Even in the hospital, Jessica is told that she is recovering quickly, She’s young and in great shape. She will get a prosthetic leg and be able to walk again. And yet that is little comfort to her. Jessica is depressed because she lives to run. She can’t imagine a life without running. She dreads going back to school and facing her classmates. She repeatedly has the running dream.
Life appears to be over, but Jessica has some good luck left, particularly when it comes to good friends. Fiona is truly there for her. She convinces Jessica to go back to school. She makes sure that her transition is as easy as possible. And there is Gavin, the cute guy that Jessica has been crushing on for over a year. He’s so nice to everyone, and although he has a girlfriend, he tries to understand what Jessica is going through and help. Finally, Jessica meets Rosa. Rosa has been in Jessica’s Algebra II class all year. But Rosa has cerebral palsy, and Jessica admits to herself that until she had to sit at a table with Rosa (because she can’t use the desk with her wheelchair), Rosa was invisible to Jessica. Jessica understands that she, too, is now—paradoxically—both invisible to some and yet someone for students to gawk at when she receives her temporary leg, which looks like a pipe. She decides to really see Rosa, who is not only kind, but also a math genius and willing to help Jessica catch up.
While Jessica struggles to get back to normal, her track coach and teammates come up with a plan to help her run again with a special $20,000 prosthetic running leg, a sort of curved piece of metal that adds spring. Meanwhile, Jessica’s parents struggle with her medical bills, insurance companies and lawyers.
I’m glad I had the chance to read this upbeat novel. I loved the way that, despite a few really mean girls, the teens had the courage to help one another—and the tenacity. Nothing they plan to do is easy, and they all have to work hard. Jessica’s better understanding of Rosa and her desire to help Rosa do something she’s always wanted was inspiring.
This novel is one of three finalists for this year’s California Young Reader Medal. It’s a book for everyone. Enjoy kindness of these characters. And if you fall for it, you might love a YA classic that deals with the same disability issue—Izzy, Willy-Nilly by Cynthia Voigt. Of the hundreds of YA books I’ve read over the years, it’s one that I remember because it’s so well written and has such beautifully realized characters. Just as The Running Dream is up for the California Young Readers’ Medal this year, Izzy, Willy-Nilly won that award some years ago.
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