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Seventh-grader Kelly takes up running as a release from a home where Dad is subject to violent rages, during which he often hits her, and where mother and older sister, Marianne, pretend nothing's wrong. Dad's anger has become more intense during the year he's passed up for promotion; he has twice denied Kelly permission to be on the track team, a reminder that Dad himself was a promising runner before he had polio. Only on the family boat is he relaxed and companionable. When Dad dies in an accident at sea, Mom and Marianne go into deep mourning; Kelly is set free, but feels guilty about her anger and her sense of relief. She joins the track team, and a sympathetic young coach helps her to come to terms with her mixed emotions. Woolverton's characters are believable and the family dynamics she portrays are realistic, but her plot is simplistic: Dad's sudden death is too convenient, Kelly's psychic injuries too easily explained and resolved. The 10-mile race she wins at the end neatly ties everything up: Mom and Marianne finally emerge from their grief to watch, and as Kelly runs she realizes that, although Dad's lashing out was unacceptable, she has some good memories; her run becomes a kind of memorial. (Ten miles is a controversially long distance for such young runners; the standard distance at this age is about three miles.) With a likable protagonist, some funny, satirical glimpses of junior-high concerns, and tensely dramatic moments, this should keep young readers turning the pages.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1987
Page count: 168pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin