Running Past Dark

Running Past Dark
Age Range
Release Date
September 19, 2023
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A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti meets Amber Smith’s The Way I Used to Be in this young adult mystery following a teen searching for the truth behind the deadly car crash that claimed the lives of her twin sister and the high school football coach.

What happens to the twin left behind?

Scottie O’Doul isn’t looking forward to starting her senior year. Last May, her identical twin sister, Cait, died in a car crash involving the school’s beloved football coach. There’s been no official report on the accident yet, but before she died, Cait told Scottie a disturbing secret. When Scottie reveals this secret, half the town turns against her, certain that Scottie is lying to protect her sister and that Cait deliberately lost control of the car.

Scottie knows her twin would never take her own life, or someone else’s, but how can she prove it? As she faces bullying and hostility at school, she starts to wonder if what Cait said was even true. Turning to running to break through her grief, Scottie finds a new world and a new sense of self outside her twinness. She also reconnects with her old boyfriend, who had a terrible accident of his own the same day Cait died. Could there be a connection?

As she runs mile after mile, Scottie keeps trying to fit the jigsaw pieces together and find the true picture of what happened to Cait and what was really going on at school before the crash.

Editor review

1 review
A Devastating but Hopeful Look at Tragedy and Healing
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Scottie is starting back to high school after truly horrific events; her sister was driving a car with the popular football coach, Jory Wilson, in the passenger seat when she drove straight into a wall, killing them both. There were some odd things about the accident scene, but Scottie is getting the most grief about information she revealed afterwards; her sister Cait had been raped by the coach. Reeling from the deaths, many people in the school have chosen to give Scottie a hard time, including her former friends Amber and Jasper, who got a lot of help from the coach, and Lissa, whose father was the coach's best friend. Even Dr. Mead, the principal, holds Scottie responsible for "drama" going on in school, such as dog poop being put in Scottie's locker. After several humiliating experiences, Scottie finds herself saying that she is going to run an ultramarathon. She even attends the Exercise Physiology class, run by Dr. Senda, and runs a 5K race on the track wearing jeans an old tennis shoes that she wore on hours long walks in the woods all summer. She finishes, but falls near the end and bashes herself up. The other students make fun of her, but Senda admires her tenacity. Her mother, an art professor, is on unpaid leave, and spends most of her time drinking or going out with her boyfriend, Mac, instead of paying attention to Scottie. Scottie has been self-harming, pouring boiling water on her hands and making the blisters worse, and running gives her the same kind of release that causing herself pain does. She buys equipment, commits to running a longer race, and even gets a job at the local running store, working for Senda's son, Ichiro. This also causes some problems, as Amber works at the store, and Coach Wilson's widow shows up there. Scottie does have some support from her friend Nico, a gymnast who suffered an injury in Cait's presence on the very day of her accident. Scottie joins a running group, and continues to put up with problems at school, but things get worse when Mac tells her that he has taken her mother to a drug rehab facility after an accidental alcohol poisoning overdose. Not knowing what to do, and feeling unsafe in her home, Scottie sleeps at the running store. She is found by the owner, Claude, whose son Jacques was devastated by his coach's death. He and his wife take Scottie in, and she is relieved by to have some stability in her life. She is in therapy, which helps a little, and continues to run, which helps a lot. Eventually, she and Nico uncover information about the day of the accident. Was Cait really guilty? The truth is even darker than anyone imagined.

Good Points
This Young Adult title includes mentions of suicide, self-harm, and rape, but does not go into details. It is also circumspect in its language and situations. Nolan, whose 1997 Dancing on the Edge and 2011 Pregnant Pause also tackle tough issues, does a fantastic job of scaffolding Scottie's extensive personal and social problems on the horrific situation of her sister, and the unfolding mystery of what really happened. On top of that, this is an ode to the curative powers of running that had a lot in common with The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances by Matthew Inman (The Oatmeal).

Scottie is an incredibly resilient character who is dealing with more than any teen ever should have to. Her mother is completely devastated by the events, and takes no care of Scottie at all. It was good to see that she at least had Claude and his wife, that she was in therapy with a doctor she liked, and that she had Nico in her corner.

The mystery was also intriguing, and had a similar feel to the pell-mell investigations in Otis' At the Speed of Lies. I don't want to ruin the twists and turns, but did enjoy that fact that Scottie and her sister were vindicated in the end because the truth was even more devastating that what Scottie thought had happened.

Running is often used in Young Adult Fiction to showcase how to deal with grief, and this is another great book to add to a list that contains Toor's On the Road to Find Out, Van Draanen's The Running Dream, and Currinder's Running on Empty. The ultra marathon race has only been covered in Carroll's 2013 Ultra, which is one of my favorites.
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