Running for his life: Michael Currinder’s RUNNING FULL TILT

Lynn: In Michael Currinder’s unusual debut novel, Running Full Tilt (2017), we meet high school junior Leo Coughlin, a boy running for his life both literally and figuratively.

Leo’s family moves to a new part of town when Leo’s 18-year-old brother upsets the old neighbors. Brother Caleb has autism with other cognitive disabilities, and has started to experience severe seizures. He has also started surprising Leo with nightly, full-out physical assaults. Rather than fight back, Leo flees into the night to give Caleb time to calm down and regain control. It calms Leo, too, and helps him deal with his own reactions. Before long, running becomes a lifeline.

Running Full Tilt by Michael Currinder

After joining his new school’s rag-tag cross country team, Leo makes friends with Curtis, its captain and star. Curtis, a real student of the sport and a supreme strategist, takes Leo under his wing. Soon, Leo begins to experience real success in both running and school, makes friends, and develops a sweet relationship with a girl. But inside his family, the situation has become increasingly difficult. With his parents’ marriage strained and Caleb dangerously unpredictable, Leo’s father begs him to “keep a lid on things around here for a while.” No one wants to have Caleb hospitalized again, least of all Leo.

Youth literature has lately seen a wonderful and welcome spurt of books with characters on the autism spectrum. Most of those books have featured high-functioning children and teens. Although these depictions are important, there are many families like Leo’s that experience something very different, often putting a severe strain on relationships and resources. I think it is equally important for literature to reflect these experiences, and Michael Currinder gives readers a front-row seat on a family situation that requires incredible endurance.

Running side-by-side with the family relationships and disabled child thread is a second, equally strong plot element. In Currinder’s skillful hands, the sport of cross country running is revealed to demand not only strength and endurance, but also the tactical skills of a three-star general! For Leo, running provides both exhilaration and a desperately-needed respite. I am not a runner, but after this book, I am tempted to become one!

Currinder’s characters shine; their strengths and flaws, successes and failures, all feel achingly authentic. Thanks to Currinder, we run in their shoes. There’s something for every reader here: sports, family relationships, humor, grief—and above all, heart.



About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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