I am a runner.
That’s what I do.
That’s who I am.
Running is all I know, or want, or care about.
It was a race around the soccer field in third grade that swept me into a real love of running.
Breathing the sweet smell of spring grass.
Sailing over dots of blooming clover.
Beating all the boys.
After that, I couldn’t stop. I ran everywhere. Raced everyone. I loved the wind across my cheeks, through my hair.
Running aired out my soul.
It made me feel alive.
I’m stuck in this bed, knowing I’ll never run again. (6)
Sixteen-year-old Jessica is a runner. She runs for the thrill of feeling the wind through her hair and the punishing burn of continuing even when you’re brain and body are telling you to stop. Her promising career as a runner is cut short after her team’s bus is involved in an accident and she loses her leg. Jessica is heart-broken, and the mounting pile of medical bills, missed homework, and her secret crush’s interest in a teammate who’s anything but a team player does nothing to lift her spirits. Her coach and her best friend have other ideas though, and hatch a plan to help her recuperate. Jessica however, learns the most from a wheelchair bound classmate who is also fighting to be recognized as a person rather than a disability. Will she ever return to the life she loved?
Personally, I had a friend in high school who walked with a limp. I never questioned her about it, and accepted her as a friend. After four years of high school, during the last week of school, she told me that she really appreciated the fact that I never treated her any differently or asked her about her limp, which was a result of a childhood illness. I’m insanely proud and pleased that she felt compelled to tell me that, and I’ve tried to use that as a basis for interaction with others. Readers might also discover this same standard for accepting others as who they are. I’m not going to beat a dead horse about how stereotypes influence our impressions of others, but the lesson rings true throughout this book.
I discovered this book from Ms. Yingling Reads who was raving about it, and actually asked “Is it possible to call dibs on a Cybil’s nomination?” And while I agree with the YA YA YAs who said the happy ending was a little predictable, I didn’t mind. I really didn’t mind all the wonderful support that Jessica gets from her family and friends and doctors and teammates and community. It’s Jessica’s story that readers are engrossed by, and it’s Jessica who has the roller coaster of emotions that keep us riding this heartfelt story that belongs on Lifetime or ABC Family. It’s Jessica’s strength, both internal and external, who inspire readers and had me cheering her and kept me reading until the very end. Jessica is also surprisingly sensitive to others, and worries about how people might react to her missing leg, her insurance problems, and the attention that she is gathering.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Jessica’s classmate Rosa, who suffers from cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheel chair. Rosa has some wonderful insights that make readers pause and consider just how they are acting around others who are different than them. It also makes you wonder how should people react. Rosa’s insights just aren’t about treating people properly, but she’s remarkably perceptive and helps Jessica make decisions and guides her in making her own conclusions.
Want more information about this story? Check out the publisher produced book trailer, where Wendelin Van Draanen talks about the book and her motivation for writing it.