September 18, 2021

BOOK REVIEW: 'The Running Dream' by Wendelin Van Draanen (no spoilers)

I didn't make a heritage recipe today. I picked one out, but once I realized who it came from, I decided to give it some more time. The recipe came from the mother of my third grade teacher! There are very few teachers that I remember well, but she was definitely one of them--a favorite for sure. I ended up looking her up on Facebook and I decided to send her a message about the recipe. I don't know if she'll read the message, but it would be great to hear from her. I'll post the recipe either way.

Anyway, I finished my September Friends read-athon book, so I wanted to get my thoughts down about it before I forget.

I committed to a 12-month read-athon, where I choose a book each month based on a prompt inspired by Friends (the TV show). Here is the post with the details.

For September, the prompt was: "The One with the Football" - Read a sports-themed book.

When I hear "sports", I think of the well-known ones: football, basketball, hockey, baseball, soccer... I am not a sports fan in the slightest sense of the word. However, even though running isn't the first thing that pops into my mind as far as sports go, I consider it a sport. And I'm definitely interested in reading about running, so I chose a book called 'The Running Dream'.

Here is the publisher's description of 'The Running Dream' by Wendelin Van Draanen (Amazon affiliate link):

Jessica 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 a young adult fiction book, and yes, I thought it sounded corny. Sometimes, though, I like corny. (The description should not have abbreviated cerebral palsy because not everyone knows what "CP" is; the description makes more sense if you know what CP is.)

I knew this was going to be a "feel good" type of book so I read it with that in mind (basically, I didn't want to be cynical about it being predictable and/or corny).

I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this book! It definitely met my expectations of it being a "feel good" book--no surprise there--but there was more to it than that.

First, reading about what it's like to lose a leg... wow. You think you can imagine how awful it would be, but you don't really think about things like, say, how to get into a bathtub when you only have one leg. You can't just hop over the side of the tub. This was a challenge that Jessica had to figure out.

I learned quite a bit about prosthetics as well--and not in a super nerdy all-the-fine-details way, but more of the basics like how it stays on the residual limb (as well as terms such as "residual limb"). It was stuff I'd never really thought about before, but I found it really interesting.

There were lots of funny parts of the book, too--I literally laughed so hard that I was wheezing at one point, and when I read it to Jerry, he was cracking up, too:

Before she was in the car accident that caused her to have her leg amputated, Jessica ran track for her high school. Her event was the 4x400 meter relay--meaning four members of the team each run a 400-meter leg to complete the race. Anyway, she went out to lunch with her friend--also on the track team--and her friend was filling her in on what was happening with the team. She mentioned another girl on the team doing the relay. Jessica responded, "Oh, did she take my leg?" (meaning the leg of the relay). When she and her friend realized what she'd said, completely unintentionally, they burst out laughing. So did I.

Basically, the book goes through stages: it starts with Jessica in the hospital immediately after her amputation. Then it goes into her adjusting to life without her leg (it's so much more complicated than I imagined!). She REALLY misses running, which is obviously a theme throughout the book. Then the books goes into her life after she's physically recovered and trying to resume some sense of normal.

She becomes friends with a girl named Rosa who has cerebral palsy and feels invisible--Jessica admits that she never paid attention to Rosa before her accident. Meanwhile, she is getting fitted for a prosthesis (a very long process!) and there is hope that she'll run again one day with the help of a prosthetic running leg.

I don't want to get much more into that because I don't want to spoil anything, but I'll just say that the book is expectedly predictable and I'm sure you'll guess what happens before you even read it, haha. However, it gave me ALL the feelings--I can't even tell you how many times I cried while reading! Happy tears. It is absolutely the "feel good" book that I imagined it would be. And I loved it!

It made me think of when I went to the Runner's World Half & Festival in 2014 and I met Sarah Reinertsen--a Paralympic triathlete and former track runner with an above-the-knee amputation. I learned a little about prosthetic running legs from her, but if I'd read this book before meeting her, I would have asked her a million more questions.

I highly recommend this book if you're looking to restore your faith in humanity. If you're a runner, you'll especially love it, but even if you're not, it would still be very enjoyable. I was surprised just how accurate the running stuff was--especially the feelings surrounding running and racing--and I figured that the author probably ran track. (In the "About the Author" section, I learned that she did, in fact, run track.)

Overall, this book was incredibly heartwarming and emotional. It was educational without being boring or nerdy, and it seemed to be well-researched. It was inspiring and uplifting.

I liked this book so much that I'd like to give away a Kindle copy! And actually, I have a paperback copy that I'm never going to read (now that I have my Paperwhite, I can't imagine going back to actual books). I got the paperback from a thrift store, so it isn't in perfect shape--it's clearly a used copy--but I'd be happy to pass it along to someone who would like it!

To enter to win a Kindle copy or the paperback, just fill out the form below. I'll email you if your name is pulled :)  (I'll randomly pick the names on September 25, 2021 at 5:00 PM ET.)

If you would like to check it out on Amazon, you can find it here. (Affiliate link)


  1. I loved the story and pictures of Sarah R. in the issue of Runner's World. But I loaned it to somebody, and told her, I want this back after you read it. And, of coarse, I never saw it again! I didn't know you got to meat her.

  2. Sounds like one I must add to my TBR pile! Thanks for the review.

  3. Great book! I teach it every year to my students.


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