Published by House of Anansi Press on September 6, 2014
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via TLC Book Tours for review consideration.
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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.
104-year-old Aganetha Smart is a former (and fictional) Olympic athlete now alone and forgotten by history. When two young strangers appear and take Aganetha on a spree away from the nursing home, memories of her long life come flooding back.
Girl Runner is part coming of age story, part historical fiction. Much of it takes place in the 1920s and 1930s, centering around the first time female athletes were allowed to run the 800 meters in the Olympics. This coincides with Aganetha’s decision to leave her family home in the country to train and find independence in the city. The novel hops around in time, with episodes of Aganetha’s past alternating with the present as we grow closer and closer to learning the identities of the two young people ushering her around.
To me, these shifts in time felt a little awkward. I also grew weary of the not-so-subtle hints of things to come. That being said, I was attached to Aganetha’s spirited character from the beginning. I loved seeing her buck the social norms of her time at every stage of her life. I also felt her frustration as she fought through confusion and frailty in her old age. I found that I always wanted to hear the rest of her story.
There’s a great twist at the end. I know, I know…of course there was! But here’s the thing: I knew the twist was coming, I could feel it. But it wasn’t at all what I expected it to be, it wasn’t out of place, and it wrapped things up so nicely.