CM . . .
. Volume XXIV Number 39. . . .June 8, 2018
Running Behind. (Orca Currents).
Victoria, BC: Orca, August, 2018.
131 pp., pbk., pdf & epub, $9.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4598-1798-2 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4598-1799-9 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4598-1800-2 (epub).
Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.
Review by Deanna Feuer.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
No one said anything for a few minutes. Finally Dave pushed back his chair. He cleared his throat and picked up his hat. He shook hands with Jake's parents. “Seems a shame,” said Jake's dad, shaking his head.
Jake stuffed his bare feet into his sneakers and walked Dave to his van. It was cold outside but they didn't hurry.
“Jake,” said Dave, “I know you're disappointed. I am too. I just can't tell you how sorry I am about this.”
There was that word again. Dave was sorry. Spencer was sorry. Somehow sorry just didn't cut it. The anger Jake felt began to warm him up. This wasn't right. He was going to go and talk to Spencer.
Running Behind is a fast-paced story about a cross-country team, the Diamonds, that comes together to win their provincial race. The story begins with the Diamonds after a practice feeling good about their chances for the race, even though they have a new member, Spencer Solomon, subbing in for the sick Paul. Jake Jarvis, the protagonist of the story, stays late to talk to Coach Dave about the Diamonds, and readers are told that, in the past, Jake has pressured his teammates to win and only win. This information introduces an ongoing theme, that winning isn't everything. Coach Dave’s shares this philosophy with the team numerous times, and this perspective is important to Jake's character arc as he later shows that he truly has let go of his obsession with winning. Jake has gotten better with his competitive spirit and now sees the value in running for fun. However, when Jake is visited later that evening by Coach Dave who tells him that Spencer has dropped out of the race for an unknown reason and that the team won't be able to compete, Jake is understandably upset, especially given his competitiveness. Jake asks Dave not to tell any of the other Diamonds about Spencer yet, and the next morning he goes to Spencer's house to figure out why he quit. When Dave gets there, he finds out that Spencer's father is in a wheel chair because of a bad car accident. Spencer was not with his father during the accident that paralyzed him, and he feels very guilty because of this fact, and so he refuses to leave his father alone the weekend of the race. Jake suggests that their fathers drive up together to see the race, and Spencer agrees on the condition that Jake can't tell anyone about his father.
The weekend of the race arrives, and the team is excited, but the oncoming snow makes Spencer very nervous about leaving his father and riding with the team in the van. While the team members banter, Jake tries to help Spencer by turning the conversation away from the snow and keeping him comfortable while maintaining his secret. Jake’s personal concern for Spencer is an important part of Jake's character arc because it shows how Jake is moving past his competitiveness and learning to care more about his team than winning. Later, when the team arrives at the hotel, the snow is heavy and Spencer and Jake's fathers still haven't arrived.
Just before the race, Jake sees his own and Spencer's fathers who tell him they'll meet the team at the finish line. Jake shares this information with Spencer who, despite not believing Jake at first, agrees to run even though he feels ill. Jake promises both the team and Spencer that he will stick with Spencer during the race.
The race begins, and Spencer isn't running the best he can, but Jake refuses to pass him, telling him that he promised to stay with him. Jake’s words encourage Spencer to run, and both he and Jake begin to do better in the race. It is at this point in the story where readers can see that Jake has truly gotten over his obsession with winning and now just wants to run with his team. However, after a while, they encounter a member from another team, the Ravens, who blocks them from getting any further. This same Raven had mocked Spencer prior to the race and had called the Diamonds wimps. When the boys try to get around the Raven runner, he knocks Spencer to the ground. Spencer then tells Jake to leave him behind and go and beat the Raven. Reluctantly, Jake does so, though he feels guilty in doing so until Spencer catches up to him. Together, they cross the finish line just behind the Raven.
The rest of the team finish the race, and Spencer and Jake debate whether or not to inform Coach Dave about what happened with the Raven. Jake wants to, but Spencer doesn't share that perspective, arguing that, because they are the only ones who saw what occurred, no one will believe them. This part of the novel seems cut short as there is just one discussion between the boys in which they disagree before moving on to another topic. When they later check the results of the race, they see that everyone has been bumped up a spot, and Coach Dave tells them that two boys were disqualified, one for unsportsmanlike behaviour. Someone had seen what happened to Spencer and Jake and had told the judges. Because of this disqualification, the Diamonds come in first as a team, and they all win medals.
This ending seems somewhat incongruous given that the rest of the novel preached that winning isn't everything and that they should be running because they enjoy it. Jake has proven that he understands running should be for fun and winning should be just an added bonus. Throughout the novel, the characters constantly say that its about the “race not results”, but they still win in the end. Between this ending and the boys' truncated argument about the cheating Raven being cut short, perhaps Running Behind could have stood to be lengthened a bit. Nonetheless, Running Behind is well worth the read.
Deanna Feuer, an English Literature graduate from the University of the Fraser Valley, lives in Langley, BC.
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