In Byington’s debut YA novel, a girl faces obstacles as she trains for the 1968 Boston Marathon—including epilepsy, sexism, and her parents’ secret.
Faye Smith is 15 in the fall of 1967 as she begins attending another new school. This time it’s in Valencia, Florida, where her father now works in an orange grove. Faye loves running and hopes someday to teach physical education. A University of Florida track coach is impressed enough to scout her, but her parents quash her hopes; they’re also furious that her recent track-meet performance wound up on TV. They can’t call attention to themselves, Faye’s mother says, because her father was wrongly accused of doing something illegal. “Honey, college isn’t for people like us,” her mom also says. “We’re blue-collar workers.” In addition, she worries that Faye’s training could trigger another epileptic seizure. Faye becomes even more determined to run in the Boston Marathon, even after a bully tries to run her over while she’s running outside. Into the new year, Faye saves money and keeps training—but old nightmares and odd flashes of memory begin surfacing, including the image of a woman who seems familiar. Increasingly certain that her parents are lying to her, Faye starts to investigate the past. Along the way, she runs harder than ever toward the marathon—and the truth. In her debut novel, Byington offers a well-written, exciting story featuring an admirably resilient heroine who’s both strong and vulnerable, by turns. The South of the late 1960s provides an effective backdrop for Faye’s experiences; at one point, for instance, her volunteer coach, a black man, puts himself in real danger—simply by running with Faye and another white girl in public. Byington nicely balances the more dramatic events with scenes of Faye’s everyday teenage life—learning to drive and having a first date and first kiss. The novel’s secrets unravel convincingly, although Faye frustratingly ignores a letter that could have explained everything earlier. When the mystery is finally solved, the teenager shows herself to be thoughtful and mature about some very thorny matters.
A compelling journey of self-discovery with a voice that rings true.