book review: Running for my Life by Anne Gonzalez

This has to be one of my favorite books. It’s one of my favorite books that portrays therapy and is just such an emotional and in the end uplifting story. About a girl faced with a horrific childhood and her ability to work through it. To understand her mentally ill mother and herself and the effects of trauma. It’s also about the support and steadfast caring of friends and one much loved bunny.

Andrea is 14 years old. Three months ago her mother was hospitalized. There was an unclear incident involving a knife. And CPS was called in. They refered her to therapy with Samantha. When the book begins Andrea has not spoken not so much as a nod in therapy for three months. She is extremely anxious on therapy days. Right from the start it’s clear she has intense anxiety, fidgeting unable to make eye contact etc. She also has an ability to detect the slightest movements of people towards or away from her, things outside the window ETC. Scanning her environment constantly but through the corners of her eyes so no one knows she’s watching.

At that first therapy session Samantha says that CPS wants to know if therapy is helping. She says she wonders “what the hell did her mother do to her.” Which sets Andrea into a panic attack. She coaches Andrea to breathe through it to look at her/ make eye contact ETC. After this Andrea does nod in agreement that Samantha will talk with her teachers and discern if therapy is helping in relation to schoolwork.

Andrea’s best friend is Margie. The two spend a lot of time together and are in the same classes. They’ve been friends since a young age. Margie wants the two of them to get on the track team as there’s a boyMathew is on the team. There is another guy named Sean that Margie thinks is good looking. So she’s convinced this will forge a connection with the boys. Andrea is not convinced. Until she runs that first time. Then Running becomes an outlit for her and at the end she feels more relaxed than she has in months.

Perhaps it’s running that then relaxes her enough to where she starts talking to Samantha. Samantha is an amazing therapist. And not because we share the same name. She’s extremely dedicated and compassionate. She truly cares about Andrea. She has boundaries for Andrea’s own good. Andrea at times has outbursts of anger at which time Samantha insists she not act out in therapy.

Early on Samantha gives her a wooden box. She says this is a box where she can keep things that make her feel safe. The first thing Samantha gives her is a medal that says freedom. Because Samantha wants to help Andrea find freedom from the past that she knows is holding her back.

Andrea and Margie go running and Andrea falls and breaks her leg in the woods. This changes a lot as she’s more dependent on her friends and at times Samantha in therapy. She can’t just jump off the couch and pace the room or run out like she has in the past. Having to actually sit on the couch brings up the feelings of anxiety, anger and flashbacks so that she and Samantha can work with them. At this time Andrea reveals several horrific memories of her mother when her mother was in a psychotic state. Through the telling Samantha encourages Andrea to take her time and breathe. At one point Andrea throws up as the feelings overwhelm her. Samantha remains constant.

At another session they use drawing to portray some of the incident with the knife but not enough to tell exactly what happened. It’s assumed that going any further is too much for Andrea to take at the time.

Andrea struggles with her recovery from her broken leg. But is also gaining new support. Margie was right and though Andrea can’t run yet, she is getting closer to Sean as he helps her to her classes. Mathew is also getting closer to Margie.

Andrea’s father remains a solid loving Dad through everything. He is there after every panic attack or nightmare to cuddle Andrea.

Pedro is the lovable bunny. He’s been there for andrea all her life. The picture in Andrea’s box shows she her mother and Pedrow in a pool. Pedro is as much a part of the book as anyone else. She and Margie often animate him bringing him alive. He gives andrea a “pep talk” before visiting her mom, and in other situations. He watches she and Margie run and is constantly on her bedside table “standing guard.” At one point Margie says she’ll take him to the prom.

As things go on Andrea has to visit her mom. She finds her not quite with it and this is extremely upsetting. A few weeks later they say her mom is well enough to come home which terrifies Andrea. Her anxiety and flashbacks are reaching a peak. She is constantly feeling out of her body like things are far away, her thoughts sound like voices. She then shakes violently. She asks Samantha what’s wrong. Samantha explains that Andrea has Post traumatic stress disorder PTSD. She emphasizes that she does not have schizophrenia her mom’s illness.

Once Andrea understands PTSD she’s much more able to breathe through the difficult moments. And to listen to anything Samantha says regarding what to expect with the disorder. Things really fall into place for her.

Andrea earns more medals symbolizing the attributes gained on her journey of healing.

I won’t give away the ending of the book. But let’s just say her mom is not well when she comes home, at least a few weeks in. And Pedro gives his life for Andrea.

I highly recommend this book! It’s great for depicting mental illness in a parent and how this effects the whole family. The choices the other parent needs to make to keep the child safe and the family dynamics that arise. It also is a wonderful model of PTSD and therapy for this disorder. I think many young adults no matter what traumatic experiences can relate to this story.

It is on bookshare and in paperback on amazon. It is not in audio but I’ll be bugging the right people about that. Links are below.



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