I’m a big fan of ‘road trip’ stories, especially in books, so I was thrilled to get the opportunity to read Hit the Ground Running.
Hit the Ground Running centres around 16 year old Dee and her younger brother, 7 year old Eddie, and their journey from Arizona, USA to Alberta, Canada in a beat-up car, with no drivers licence and less than $500 to last the journey.
The reason for the quick get-away is because Dee’s father has been missing (which isn’t that unusual) for 6 weeks (which is unusual) and child protective services are knocking on their door. Dee is fearful that Eddie will be separated from her in foster homes or that there will be legal repercussions about them not technically being American citizens. So Dee packs up what little essentials they can fit in their ancient car, along with her meagre savings and their Canadian passports and heads to Alberta where their aunt and uncle live.
But can 2 children make the perilous journey with little money, experience or hope?
“In the evening, he would sometimes drag a little stool out and sit watching the nothingness, waiting for the sun to sear its horizontal stripes lower and lower, protesting in a scream of red before it bled itself out.”
What follows is an endearing, sweet and mostly realistic exploration of family devotion. It also features the struggles of a teenager who seems to have been forced to grow up before her time due to a less than stellar father.
I couldn’t help but feel for Dee, there were times when I really empathised with her. It seems that their father is a good man, but very clueless to the needs of his children, and Eddie is a child who completely shuts down when he’s stressed and is very eccentric. Therefore Dee has to shoulder the responsibilities of a parental figure as well as the older siblings figure. She’s very mature but there are times when her true 16 year old self shines through, which makes her a much more believable and realistic character.
It’s never expressly stated in the book but I felt like two of the characters might be potentially suffering from mental illnesses/developmental difficulties. Now this is just my reading of the characters and other people might not read them the same way but I felt that Dee and Eddie’s father might be suffering from depression or some similar mental illness. It seems to have stemmed from his wife’s death and he throws himself into fruitless antique hunts that take him away from his family for extended periods of time.
As for Eddie, I personally think that he might be somewhere on the autistic spectrum. His actions, speech patterns and mannerisms go a little beyond ‘just quirky’. He needs routine and takes a special interest in things that most children his age just wouldn’t. He also can’t handle stress and goes into what Dee calls his ‘idiot kid’ routine where he completely shuts down. Like I said, perhaps this wasn’t the intent of the author, but I read Eddie as on the spectrum and that made me admire Dee even more for being able to take on so much responsibility at her age.
Ultimately this story is about sibling love and loyalty and looks into desperation and what someone would and is willing to do for family. The thing I love about this book is that it highlights the little things just as much as the big things. Dee (for better or worse – that decision is up to you) decides to relocate what is left of her family to Canada, which is a big thing, but along the way she makes pit stops at the Grand Canyon and for a swimming session among other things because that’s what Eddie needs – the little things.
“Doors locked against wildlife and axe murderers, windows open just a crack, they had their pretend campfire in the backseat.”
It’s also a story about embracing ‘the now’ when the past and future are difficult and uncertain, and talks about the need to let go of something you might not want to for the betterment of your situation (this is lightly touched upon and symbolised with Vera, the aloe vera plant). There is plenty of room for reflection once you’ve finished reading, which is always a sign of a good book.
Hit the Ground Running has a fairly simple plot, which is ok – but I just wish there was a little bit more to it and that more happened throughout the book. It’s a quick and enjoyable read but I have to admit I was left wanting more. I wanted more danger – what would have happened if they got in that car? An escape could have been really exciting. I wanted more adventure – they drove for hundreds of miles and very little happened. I wanted more humour – I think more dialogue, even inner dialogue, would have increased the opportunity for humour and benefited the story.
The ending of the book seemed quite rushed. This is a short book and I think it would have benefited from an additional 50 pages or so. This could have really given the ending – which provides a very temporary solution and leaves many questions unanswered – a much more fleshed out and satisfying end. The ending was too perfect and we got no answers about their dad, which was frustrating.
Overall Hit the Ground Running was a good read that, whilst it had some flaws, told a mostly realistic and heart-warming story whilst exploring some important themes. It’s well written and I enjoyed the descriptive style. It’s left open for a potential sequel and, whilst I don’t think it’s likely to happen, if there was a sequel I would definitely read it.
” “Oh. No, thanks.” Dee said, flushing. Not for sale.
“Do you have any hot chocolate?” Eddie asked excitedly. Completely bought. “
[PLEASE NOTE]: All quotations were taken from an Advanced Reader Copy made of uncorrected proof. Quotations may be different in the final published version. I was given a digital copy of the ARC in return for an honest review. I was not paid or sponsored to write this review – all the opinions are honest and my own.