Friday, 5 December 2014

Girl Runner

Author: Carrie Snyder
Genre: Historical Fiction, Canadian
Type: Hardcover
Source: Local Public Library
Pages: 354
Publisher: House of Anansi Press
First Published: 2014
First Line: "This is not the love song of Aganetha Smart."

Book Description from GoodReads:  Girl Runner is the story of Aganetha Smart, a former Olympic athlete who was famous in the 1920s, but now, at age 104, lives in a nursing home, alone and forgotten by history. For Aganetha, a competitive and ambitious woman, her life remains present and unfinished in her mind.

When her quiet life is disturbed by the unexpected arrival of two young strangers, Aganetha begins to reflect on her childhood in rural Ontario and her struggles to make an independent life for herself in the city.

Without revealing who they are, or what they may want from her, the visitors take Aganetha on an outing from the nursing home. As ready as ever for adventure, Aganetha’s memories are stirred when the pair return her to the family farm where she was raised. The devastation of WWI and the Spanish flu epidemic, the optimism of the 1920s and the sacrifices of the 1930s play out in Aganetha’s mind, as she wrestles with the confusion and displacement of the present.

Part historical page-turner, part contemporary mystery, Girl Runner is an engaging and endearing story about family, ambition, athletics and the dedicated pursuit of one’s passions. It is also, ultimately, about a woman who follows the singular, heart-breaking and inspiring course of her life until the very end.

My Review:  This book is a fictional story about a trailblazing young female Canadian runner in the early 20th century and was inspired by Canada's own 'Matchless Six' (the Canadian female athletes who successfully competed in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics).  I loved learning more about the history of women in the Olympics and the struggles that these women went through in order to be able to compete on the world stage but I didn't feel that the underlying personal story of Aganetha's life was as interesting.

Aganetha was a unique character and I enjoyed getting a look into 104 year old Aggie's mind set as she struggled to communicate and make sense of what was happening around her.  But I quickly learned that the overall story was less about the female runner and more about her dysfunctional family life, her familial loss and friendships.  And while I loved that the book had a Canadian setting, it felt like the links between the modern day story line and the the story line from the past were often jumbled and didn't transition smoothly.

I liked Aggie but I didn't feel any connection to other characters.  For example,  I wasn't sure how I was supposed to react to Kaley's character.  Was the reader supposed to feel sympathetic to her plight?  I couldn't muster up any sympathy and instead kept seeing her as a sneaky gold digger.  Also, from personal history with my own grandmothers, I couldn't see any nursing home allowing just anyone to wheel out a patient without showing any identification.

What I will take away from this book is a better understanding of how things were for female athletes in the early 20th century as well as the early struggles of women to gain control over their own bodies.  Unfortunately I wasn't as engaged in Aggie's life as I would have hoped and with the addition of the modern day story line I can't say that I loved this book.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

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