CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 2. . . .September 11, 2015
Jesse, named after gold-medalist runner Jesse Ownes, or ‘Legs’ as her grandma calls her, used to love to run, and her passion made her a star track and field athlete. She couldn’t imagine life without running, but that changed the day her father suffered a fatal heart attack while helping her train. Four months have passed, and she still can’t bring herself to put her sneakers on again, feeling like she caused her father’s heart attack by pushing him to keep up with her. Her mother and grandma are worried about her, and they encourage her to apply to be a camp counsellor for the summer as it will give her some time away, and she realizes it will also give her mother and grandma time to grieve without worrying about upsetting her. With some help from her best friend Chloe, and a special package her grandma slips in, Jesse decides she’ll make the best of the summer no matter what happens. Her determination is going to be challenged in ways she could never have imagined.
On arriving at the camp, Jesse finds the kids and counsellors have already fallen into their usual cliques. The fact she is the newest addition is driven home when it appears she’s not on the counsellor list. She is, but, based on her name, was thought to be male. After a long argument with Kirk, the person with the counsellor assignment list who has gorgeous brown eyes that Jesse tells herself she hates, her name is found on the list. Jesse had been assigned to cabin 4A – a boy’s cabin that had been added at the last minute. Not one to back down from a challenge, Jesse makes it clear she has no intention to leave over the error. Jesse can’t see how a cabin, smaller than the others, could be more difficult than proving she was the person on the counsellors list – then she’s introduced to the cabin of campers no one else wanted, including the camp owner’s son who has a reputation for causing trouble.
Jesse’s cabin members are determined to make her give up and go home: they use her underwear and the dozens of condoms her well-intentioned grandma had snuck into her luggage for the cabin decorating competition; they fake a drowning just to make Jesse jump into the murkiest, muddiest, most dangerous part of the lake, they read her personal journal, focussing on the juicy bits involving Kirk aloud as their talent show act. It’s the talent show that gets Jesse in trouble, but not the kind she imagines. When she chases down Spenser, the camper performing a reading of her journal in front of the entire camp, her running skills are more memorable than her romances. Jesse is ready to be fired when she’s called into a meeting with camp management, but nothing seems to go the way she imagines. Jesse isn’t punished or fired…as long as she participates in, and wins, the annual triathlon. It was discovered Jesse was provincial champion, and her camp hasn’t won in years. Jesse agrees, but she is not comfortable with the idea of running yet. After interrupting Spencer’s recital of her journal and chasing him off the stage, she knows he’s got the skills needed to become a great runner. They secretly train and don’t tell anyone what they have planned until just before the running portion of the triathlon. Spencer’s dad, who also owns the camp, manages, with some serious persuasion, to find time to see his son run, although he actually comes when promised they’ll win the trophy. Although they finish second, Spencer’s dad is happy with his son’s performance and the transformation in his son brought about by Jesse’s training and determination to not let him ruin her summer.
Jesse is a complex character who will keep readers evaluating how they feel about her. The recent loss of her father will bring out sympathy in readers, but Jesse also has moments of selfishness and is hurtful toward people she cares about. She doesn’t like people judging her based on her name, but she is quick to judge other like the ‘cupcakes’, as she labels one of the girls’ cabins led by her romantic rival Lacey, a blonde ‘girly girl’ who Jesse thinks wants Kirk for herself, and her cabin full of kids she thinks are bad by nature rather than influenced by how others treat them. Jesse feels responsible for her father’s death since he had a heart attack trying to keep up with her during training. She deprives herself of the joy running brings her in order to punish herself for causing his death. Readers will feel her pain, cheer her on as she takes on her cabin, Lacey, and occasionally Kirk, and will cringe in horror, and maybe laugh a little, at the antics her cabin gets up to: no one wants their collection of thongs hung outside a cabin along with water-filled condoms, or have their deepest, darkest secrets read to an audience, but it’s hard not to laugh at the picture the author paints. Quick-paced with lots of twists, readers will love Girl on the Run.
Crystal Sutherland is a MEd (Literacy) and MLIS graduate and librarian living in Halifax, NS.
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