Wednesday, April 20, 2011

THE RUNNING DREAM by Wendelin Van Draanen

An accident involving a junk-hauling truck and a school bus leaves one high school track team member dead and one team member with her leg amputated below the knee.

When Jessica wakes up after surgery, she learns that her leg was hopelessly crushed leaving doctors no choice but to amputate it.  At the same time she is facing her own crippling injury, she learns that fellow teammate, Lucy, didn't survive.  Her world looks pretty bleak and hopeless.

Because she is young and healthy, Jessica's recovery goes smoothly and she soon heads home from the hospital.  Physical therapists have been preparing what remains of her leg for a prosthetic replacement.  Her wish is to walk again, but she doesn't hold out much hope that she will ever run again.  Supportive family and friends work hard to convince her she needs to be patient and keep a positive outlook.  Of course, this is easier said than done.

Upon returning to school, Jessica finds herself working hard to catch up on the work she has missed, especially Algebra II.  Because of her wheelchair, she sits in the back of the classroom with Rosa, also wheelchair bound due to cerebral palsy.  Jessica discovers that Rose is a math whiz and can explain the concepts even better than the teacher.  It's amazing how Jessica really never noticed Rosa before the accident, but now she understands that cerebral palsy is just an outside condition and that there is much more to Rosa on the inside.

Meanwhile, medical expenses are challenging the family budget, and when the track coach mentions the idea of a "running" leg for Jessica, the $20,000 expense seem impossible.  But once again her friends step forward and decide to make Jessica's ability to someday run again their cause.  There are bake sales, car washes, and anonymous donations to raise money for a special prosthetic running leg.  All this enthusiastic support encourages Jessica to begin dreaming of one day running again.

THE RUNNING DREAM by Wendelin Van Draanen explores the heartbreak resulting from a tragic accident.  Being a teen is difficult enough, but add to that the loss of a limb and life seems too depressing to go on.  Not only is Jessica battling the loss of her running dream, but also the self-esteem issues of how others now view her and how she fits into the world of the other healthy, happy teens around her.  Van Draanen proves that determination, courage, and empathy for others can sustain hope in what might be considered a hopeless situation.  Readers from middle school on up will find this one a rewarding read.

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