March 03, 2014

Running Scared

by Beverley Terrell-Deutsch
Red Deer Press
176 pp.
Ages 9-12
October, 2013

How far would you go out of your way to avoid walking past  a point that held traumatic memories?  Twice as far?  Three times as far? Grade six student Gregory is willing to take a route between school and home that is four times longer than the direct route past the Jiffy Mart to avoid where his father was killed in a car accident last winter.  He might have to deal with the big yellow dog that barks at him when he runs (to save some time) but it's his choice to take this route, a secret he only shares with his best friend, Matt.  But everything is set to change.  It has been announced that their school will be closing January 1st and the bus that Gregory and others will be taking to their new school will be picking them up in front of the Jiffy Mart. 
So what are Gregory's options?  He has tried, with and without Matt's help, to overcome this fear and continues to try, now with the help of new student Teisha too.  But, he's convinced that they must stop the school from closing, joining the Save Our School campaign.  The only saving grace in his school life (especially since his grades have definitely been slipping in the past year) is participating in the Math Club.  Gregory loves numbers and patterns, as does Teisha, and Gregory doesn't find it difficult to concentrate on the problems the club works on. 

Ultimately, the big yellow dog becomes an important focal point by which Gregory helps Teisha (who has her own issues), by which Gregory helps the dog, its owner and an elderly woman who also cares for the dog, and perhaps sets the scene for making things better for Gregory and his mother.  By helping others, Gregory is ready to find the means (or the math) to help himself. 

Running Scared may seem to follow a straightforward storyline.  You know: boy has fear/dilemma, boy conquers fear/dilemma.  But the inclusion of Teisha who has her own issues with which to deal, Sam Briggs, whose bravado only masks her own needs, and Miss Sunny Marshall who searches for the means to stay independent and successfully navigate her way to and from the Jiffy Mart suggest that everyone needs some help some time and is not always willing to ask for it.  Beverley Terrell-Deutsch creates an assortment of characters who become a community of allies, helping and taking help as given, all without looking fragile or debilitated.  Problem-solving, whether with numbers or issues, is the means why which fear can be alleviated or at least by-passed. Gregory had the right idea all along.  He just forgot that, as in math, reciprocity can lead to balance and progress.

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