Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ 1/2
Content Warnings: Violence, death, grief & loss
Some books are just okay but also kind of good at the same time. They’re a good story and they have their moments, but they just don’t resonate enough wit
h you, but you still want to let people know about them because it might be the perfect book for someone else. Michael Currinder’s debut novel Running Full Tilt was one of those books for me. I’m still on the fence about how I feel about it, to be completely honest.
I love stories about guys developing a passion for running. I’m not sure why, but I do. That’s what drew me to this story about Leo, a junior in high school, who joins the cross country team at his new school after his family moves to a different neighborhood because their old neighbors complained about his autistic brother Caleb’s behavior. The author has a background in running and has a disabled sibling, and these experiences definitely felt reflected in the stories.
Part of my issue about this book is I wasn’t really sure how to feel about the representation of Caleb’s autism because I am not autistic and I don’t know anyone personally who is autistic at the level Caleb is in the novel. It is mentioned that he has other developmental and mental disabilities. Overall, I think that Currinder did a solid job at describing the different aspects of Caleb’s autism and the effects it had on the family. However, I would be interested in what people with autism or relatives of people with autism think about the representation.
In terms of story, this is definitely a character driven book and most of the plot is centered around Leo’s relationship with running and Leo’s relationship with Caleb, which are interconnected. I found it to drag at parts and move just right at others. Still, it was a quick read and is the kind of book that’s perfect to read on an autumn weekend afternoon.
One of the things I liked best about this book was the representation of high school athletics, which is something that I don’t think is represented as widely in YA as it should be to reflect the variety of athletic experiences that teens today have. I found the running scenes to be a bit boring and info-dumpy as a non-runner, but I could easily imagine those being the favorite scenes of someone who enjoys cross-country running. At the very least, those scenes added tension to the novel and it was clear that Currinder knew what he was talking about writing them.
Overall, Running Full Tilt is the quiet tale of a teen struggling to find patience and compassion for his autistic brother, who is increasingly violent towards him, and finds an outlet in running. It is endearing and poignant. It has some amazing secondary characters (Leo’s cross country teammate Curtis was my favorite) and some amazing teens. For me, it was solid and entertaining, and I think this has the potential to be a powerful story if it’s in the right teen’s hands.