The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen – REVIEW

The Running Dream by Wendelin Van DraanenJessica thinks her life is over when she loses a leg in a car accident. She’s not comforted by the news that she’ll be able to walk with the help of a prosthetic leg. Who cares about walking when you live to run?

As she struggles to cope with crutches and a first cyborg-like prosthetic, Jessica feels oddly both in the spotlight and invisible. People who don’t know what to say, act like she’s not there. Which she could handle better if she weren’t now keenly aware that she’d done the same thing herself to a girl with CP named Rosa. A girl who is going to tutor her through all the math she’s missed. A girl who sees right into the heart of her.

With the support of family, friends, a coach, and her track teammates, Jessica may actually be able to run again. But that’s not enough for her now. She doesn’t just want to cross finish lines herself—she wants to take Rosa with her.

“It’s disturbing how fast weeds take root in my garden of worthiness. They’re so hard to pull. And grow back so easily.”

I love taking part in reading challenges as I know I’ll come across books that I might have missed otherwise. I chose this book for this year’s Read Harder challenge, to fulfil the ‘read a book about sports’ prompt. After searching Goodreads, I was initially planning to read Friday Night Lights and then I saw this and it seemed perfect. Aimed at young adults, this book explores the consequences for a high school track star who has to have her leg amputated below the knee. What I appreciated most about this story was how realistic it felt. The physical rehabilitation process seemed to be well-researched and thankfully wasn’t glossed over as something too unpalatable to discuss. 

“I realise something. That wasn’t a finish line for me … This is my new starting line.”

However, it was the exploration of Jessica’s emotional state that felt even more authentic. This wasn’t a story where the main character’s never-ending optimism meant they wouldn’t let an injury or disability ‘stop them’. This was a story where the author acknowledges that something as traumatic as amputation and the subsequent permanent disability would certainly affect your mental health. The depression Jessica experienced was relatable and I appreciated that it didn’t miraculously go away, never to be seen again. As someone with a long-term health condition, depression is something I regularly experience and even when you beat one episode, there will be another in the future.

“Don’t sum up a person based on what you see, or what you don’t understand; get to know them.”

Jessica’s developing friendship with Rosa forms another main thread and it was realistically handled – Jessica’s method of helping Rosa seemed like something a high school student would think of. The message this book successfully urges the reader to absorb is to ‘see the person, not the disability’. This is particularly true in Rosa’s case as she can’t hide her wheelchair or speech difficulties. In some ways, it’s easier for Jessica as, once she has a prosthetic leg, her disability isn’t noticeable at first glance. I’d love to hear more about Rosa and what happened next for her. Overall, this was an inspirational book that ended on a beautifully hopeful note and one that I would definitely recommend.

An inspiring and hopeful sports book tackling disability and mental health.

(Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository)

Wendelin Van Draanen About the Author

Wendelin Van Draanen has written more than thirty novels for young readers and teens. She is the author of the 18-book Edgar-winning Sammy Keyes series, and wrote Flipped which was named a Top 100 Children’s Novel for the 21st Century by SLJ, and became a Warner Brothers feature film with Rob Reiner directing. Her novel The Running Dream was awarded ALA’s Schneider Family Award for its portrayal of the disability experience.


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