Positive. Uplifting. Inspirational.
Unlike any book I've read recently, positive energy radiates from Wendelin Van Draanen's YA novel The Running Dream. I'd added the book to my "to read" pile at some point this summer and over the course of a few months several books have shouldered their way past it and into my hands.
It took my overhearing a conversation in my 8th grade classroom a couple of weeks ago for me to anchor the book solidly into my upcoming (current) reading blitz during the holiday break. A student saw the book on a cart near my desk and told her friend that The Running Dream is a favorite of hers, that she loves the book, and loves the author--and she talked about the book with the widest eyes and biggest smile. She didn't a lot, it was just the way she said it that grabbed my attention.
And now I understand why.
High school junior Jessica Carlisle runs. And runs. And runs. She is the best runner for her high school and among the best in her county--The Running Dream takes us on her inspiring journey to learn how to run again after suffering an awful accident which claims one of her legs. However, the novel is bigger than that as Jessica forms a new friendship with a girl, Rosa, who was born with cerebral palsy...and the novel takes on a patina which is more than just about one girl overcoming an awful blow and challenge, it is an upbeat and positive call to see people for who they are, not for what they have or can do.
Jessica grows sensitive to all that Rosa does not experience in life, and becomes especially sensitive as to how she presents Jessica to others. Her mother asks her at one point why she didn't tell her that Rosa has cerebral palsy. We know as a reader that it isn't because Jessica is embarrassed by any of it. As she says to newswoman interviewing her later in the novel when speaking about a goal she and Rosa are working on together, "Don't sum up the person based on what you see, or what you don't understand; get to know them."
Many of the characters in this novel remind of some of the best young people I've ever had the privilege to know and work with as a teacher and coach. And by best I mean positive, generous, and thoughtful to the nth degree--if you are a teacher you see this in your students. Some young people just get it and make you feel blessed to know them as you marvel at their passion, kindness, and positive influence.
The positive energy of young people radiates and fills rooms. When others catch on, it radiates and fills a community--however, what you learn about this positive energy is that when it is planted inside someone, it roots itself. It isn't temporary.
It is catching and pervasive much in the same way I imagine negative energy anchors people down and destroys them.
Take the best elements of the films Soul Surfer, Patch Adams, Pay It Forward, and you have The Running Dream-- a book that carries that same positive radiance that roots itself in people and helps mold them into the people we hope they can be--for all of the challenging obstacles in this novel there isn't one heartbeat of negative energy in it. As I imagine we all want our kids to be exposed to as many positive and uplifting experiences as possible, this is a book you must include in your classroom or in your home.