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Book Review: A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti

Novels about running (and hiking) create mixed feelings in me. I want authors to write about running to understand running, probably in a way that only runners (ie, people who run) can; I also want the details to be right. (I also feel this way about books that include gymnastics, libraries, Mormons...) They don't always do this, and then I find I can't enjoy the story as much because the lack of understanding (or small details that are wrong) pushes me right out of the narrative.

But when writers get it right, novels about running are books I love.

A heart in a body in the world book coverA Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti is a book that gets the details about running right. It tells the story of Annabelle Agnelli, a high school senior who lives in Seattle. After some sort of trauma—you slowly learn the details of that part of the story as the book progresses—she is triggered by the obnoxious behavior of some boys at a fast-food drive-in, and starts running. When she stops, she finds she's miles away from home, on the shores of Lake Washington, with an idea: she doesn't want to stop running. She wants to keep running, all the way across the country.

In the first pages of the book, my immediate problem with this idea is resolved. No one just picks up and runs 13-ish miles, even if they're upset. No one decides to run across the country if they aren't already a runner. (Or if they do, they'll be walking fairly soon.) But Annabelle is a long-distance runner for her high school team, and she's run a couple of marathons.

So while running across the entire country would be incredibly difficult, at least the story starts with a person who could, in theory, and with a lot of bandaids and help, accomplish it.

I find I am having a hard time writing about this book. I keep writing and then backspacing. This is, I think, because I don't want my words to represent it. It also could be because despite the fact that I don't really love the title, A Heart in a Body in the World? is one of my favorite YA novels I've ever read.

Because, yes. It's a novel about a runner. It gets the details of running exactly right. And it's about how running can sometimes be the only thing that can save you. Or at least—how it feels like running is the thing that saves you, but really, who's doing the running? The runner is. So running is about saving yourself, sometimes. 

But I loved it for other reasons, too. I loved it for Annabelle's voice, and for her mother's reactions, and for the way her grandfather took care of her. For the people she meets along the way.

Also for the issues the novel explores, and how it does it. If I wrote about what those issues are, I think it would ruin the experience of reading the book, because coming to understand what happened to Annabelle is a thing that unfolds with the story—you start to know what happened as Annabelle is starting to really deal with what happened.

So even if you're not a runner, I think you will love this one, too. But if you ARE a runner, or a person who experienced trauma in adolescence, or a person with a heart (hearts themselves matter in the story, too), I think you'll also love it.

Let me know your reaction if you read it!



I will talk about this after west coast tours from los angeles.

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