Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Running Dream

The Running Dream

Wendelin Van Draanen
For ages 13 and up
Random House, 2011   ISBN: 978-0375866678

When she is running, Jessica feels “free.” She loves to feel the wind on her face, and for her, running is not just a hobby, it is a vital part of life. Soon after she breaks her personal record in the 400 meter dash, Jessica’s life changes dramatically. She and her team mates are travelling to a meet when the school bus they are in is involved in an accident. One of the team members is killed, and one of Jessica’s legs is so badly injured that the doctor has to remove the leg from below the knee.

At first Jessica’s loss is almost more than she can bear. If she cannot be a runner, how can she keep going? How can she go through life looking like a “freak?” Then, as the pain lessens, Jessica begins to realize that perhaps her life is not over after all. Pushed and encouraged by her best friend, Jessica starts making an effort to rebuild her life. She goes back to school, and she starts thinking about her future. Perhaps, once she has her new prosthetic leg, things won’t be so bad.

On her first day back in school, Jessica meets Rosa, a girl with cerebral palsy who is confined to a wheel chair. At first Jessica does not know how to behave around Rosa, but it isn’t long before she realizes that Rosa is sweet, kind, and smart. In fact, she is so good at math that Rosa is able to help Jessica with her math problems. For the first time, Jessica appreciates how lucky she is. She will not be confined to a wheel chair the way Rosa is. She will walk again and she knows what it feels like to run, something that Rosa will never be able to experience.

Jessica is reconciling herself to the fact that she will never be able to run again when her coach shows her a video showing amputees running. They have special prosthetic legs that allow them to run in races. Jessica is so excited, until she finds out how expensive the running legs are. Her parents are already struggling to pay her medical bills. How will she ever be able to pay for a running leg that costs twenty thousand dollars?

This remarkable novel will give readers a window into the heart of a teen who suffers a terrible loss. Through Jessica’s eyes we also see how the people around her suffer with her, but how these same people find creative ways to literally get her back on her feet. The story is sometimes painful, but it is also inspiring and deeply moving. It celebrates the resilience of the human spirit, and it shows us how friendship can lift up a person who is struggling.