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A fast girl weighs in:
Dear Ms. Toor (or Rachel)
I just finished your book, On the Road to Find Out, and it left me with a lot to say. As I was reading your note in the back of the book, I was already thinking about sending you an email, and was relieved, and pretty excited, to see that you actually wanted to hear the stories of your readers! I love to talk about things I am passionate about, and running is most definitely one of those things.
My running story began in middle school. When I was little, I played every sport known to man. Not really, but I did a lot. I ended up sticking with soccer and swimming, and once I got to middle school, I began to run track. When I played any sport, I was always super competitive; at swim practice I raced the people in the lanes next to me, and on the soccer field I was never afraid to steal the ball from anybody. I wouldn’t say that I was intense really, I just loved to compete. Anyway, back to running. Since I loved to compete so much, I would race the PE mile, half mile, you name it. In eighth grade, my first year running cross country as well as track, I nearly broke six minutes in the mile, and from that moment, I began to realize that running was the sport for me.
High school started and I went out for the cross country team, giving up fall/winter swim training in the process. I loved to swim, but I knew that I needed to run. I made varsity after the first week, and from then on, running became my passion. I won my first dual meet, and then there was a snowball effect. I got faster and faster. I placed third in the county, ninth in the section, and ultimately, 30th at the state meet. I trained over the winter with my team, and by the time track rolled around I was itching to race. I soon discovered that the mile was for me. However, my coach put me and my teammates (our girl’s distance team is very strong) anywhere that points were needed. I ran the mile, the 800, the 4×4, the two mile, you name it. I remember one meet in particular, up against our rival schools, where it was absolutely pouring rain. I tripled in the mile, the eight, and the two mile. We won. Anyway, the season went on, and the mile became my focus. My times dropped consistently: 5:24, 5:14, 5:09, 5:04 (the school record!), and finally to 5:01 at the section championships. I didn’t make it to state. I trained over the summer with the team.
Sophomore year cross country rolled around, and I was off to a bad start. I’m a straight A student, but school caught me off guard. I was stressed and got sick. I missed the first two meets of the season. Finally, after about two weeks, I got better and was back to my old form. The only problem was, one of my teammates had significantly improved and was giving me a run for my money. It got into my head, and instead of focusing on myself, I focused on her the whole season. Anyway, I ran some great races, coming in 15th at the Clovis Invitational, and then 5th at Mt. Sac. I won the county championships. But then, I got sick again. When sectionals rolled around, I had enough in me to get second place (the winner was a junior from another high school). While all of this was happening, my team was kicking butt. FIrst in the county, and first at sectionals, winning both by enormous margins. So while I got worse, my team just got better. It was bittersweet. Luckily, I just got “better” by the state meet. I ended up having the worst race of my life. I was seeded 8th, but I was so tired. I ran the first mile on target, and then I fell apart. My teammate passed me, everyone passed me. I forgot about time or about place. All I had to do was finish. I got 35th place and ran a good 25 seconds slower than at the beginning of the season. My teammate that I had been competing with all season got ninth. I was devastated. After state, we went to footlocker regionals. Looking back, I think I could have placed in the top ten and gone to nationals, but I was more than ready for my season to be over. I ended up placing 24th and getting a medal. It didn’t really matter though. My season was over.
Again, I trained in the winter. I’ve been training up until now. I just got sick, again, and I’m determined that this will be the last time. I’ve already had two pretty good track races (at all comer’s meets, so just marks) and I want to keep it that way. I’ve been getting sick more often than ever this year, and I’m going to find a way to stop it. Not that it matters, but I think sleep is the key (I’ve been getting more and more and I’m feeling better already).
So that’s my running story. Sorry it’s lengthy, poorly written, and makes me sound pretty self-centered, which I try not to be, but I thought I should tell it to you. Now I can finally get to the book.
I just finished this morning, and I’ve been obsessively reading it in any spare moment I have. Before bed, in-between homework assignments, anytime, anywhere. It was absolutely wonderful. Alice, although frustrating at times, was very relatable. I understood her perfectionism, her frustration, and her obsession on her rejection from Yale. I understood her companionship with Jenni very well. My best friend’s name is Annie. She is absolutely lovely. Funny, smart, pretty; she is practically perfect. At least to me. She isn’t always confident, like Jenni, and that makes me so mad. She is my teammate, and is a spectacular runner. If she just believed in herself she could do incredible things.
I also really appreciate how you portray running. You acknowledge the pain, and the uncomfortableness, but you manage to perfectly capture the feeling afterwards, or the feeling you get when you’re just flying. I have trouble putting that into words, and seeing someone put it so wonderfully made me so happy. I want everyone to read this book so they understand why I run, and stop giving me funny looks when I tell them how much a race hurt with a smile.
Lastly, I want to thank you for the story between Alice and Miles. I’m so glad that this wasn’t a romance book, but I did think that this was a lovely part of the story. I looked forward to the parts between the two of them, but I was glad that it wasn’t the whole story. You made it clear that Alice was more than just a runner, or a girl with a crush, or a rat owner, or a straight A student. She was Alice the person, and Miles just happened to be part of that. (Not to mention that I basically fell in love with him thankyouverymuch).
The main point I’m trying to make here with all this rambling and poor story telling is thank you. Thank you for writing such an exquisite novel that reminded me why I love to run and also that I am more than just a runner, but that I am a person. Thank you for representing running so well, and thank you for representing Alice, a girl who is a lot like me. Thank you thank you thank you.
With many thanks,
PS: There’s so much more that I want to say, but I can’t seem to get it down in an understandable way, so this is it, at least for now. Again, THANK YOU!
PPS: I go to Redwood High School in California and I am in the 10th grade. So is Annie.
This is me running at this year’s county championships. I’m the one in front. (Annie was in this race too, not too far behind) (I also hate the shorts I’m wearing, or “buns” as I’m sure you know they’re called)
This is Annie and I on Halloween. She is the taller one. We were “deer in the headlights”.
Reader love for me! This one just about killed me. We can refer to it as the”Why I write” message:
So I just finished reading your book… and OMG it couldn’t have summed up my thoughts better. I know you’re a total stranger, but I just want to let you know how much this book has helped me. (I’m in tears right now writing this.)
I’m a junior right now and am deep in the college searching process. All my life I’ve had this dream to play a sport in college and I fell in love with field hockey. (I’m also an avid runner on the side which is why I read the book) I have also always been a perfectionist. I’m way too hard on myself and most of the time I can even stand thinking cause all I do is tear myself apart. I always have to be better. Anyways, I had a really, really, really tough year last year. Junior year is supposed to be tough, but let me tell you sophomore year was hell. I decided to take on a whopping two AP classes (AP World and AP Statistics) after taking one freshman year. I’m not valedictorian material, so I decided to load on the course work cause after all, colleges want to see you push yourself right? I struggled a great deal academically (always somehow getting good grades though), continued to play three varsity sports (field hockey, winter track and lacrosse), played club field hockey so colleges could see me play, was treasurer of my class, started my girl scout gold award, continued to do millions of hours of volunteer work, was in more clubs than I could keep track of and much much more. By the time school had even started I was no longer hanging out with my two friends (please note my lack of social life) and rarely even left my house unless it was for a practice or because I absolutely had to. I was always working on something else and trying to check off another thing on my never ending to-do list. I LITERALLY drove myself insane from this. I don’t really want to get into the details, but anyways it got REALLY bad. I didn’t know how to take care of myself anymore, my emotional and mental health was gone, I felt like there was a thousand pounds on my shoulders and I was completely lost. I was forced to start going to therapy. Yes, it has kind of helped, but no, I had failed. How did I ever let the pressure crack me like that? And if this happened to me, how many other students have to go through that? …But thanks to your book I picked up when my dad took me to the book store, I have become so much more relieved because Alice put what I have been feeling into words, onto paper. Alice made me realize that it’s okay to be open to more opportunities. I have become so narrow-minded that I’ve forgotten to stop and look around. I have forgotten how to have fun or enjoy myself. I love how your book touches on the fact that colleges are basically destroying students before they even get to finish high school. All of the competitive students that are trying to get in have to also make sure that they are not burning out before they can even have a chance to fulfill their potential. The whole thing absolutely sucks. But Alice made me realize that what has happened to me is ok. That it is actually ok to fail if you can pick yourself back up. And that’s exactly what I’m doing.
Words (yes even all of these) cannot even begin to express my gratitude,
Hi Ms. Toor: I recently picked up your book On the Road to Find Out at my local library. I had wandered in while running errands and I took a peak at the new teen fiction books. For whatever reason your book stood out to me, yes I do judge books by their cover. I read the inside cover and got almost half-way before deciding to check it out. Note that I didn’t even reach the part about running. That night when I got home and cracked open the book I was somewhat confused that Alice was running not immediately wallowing about not getting accepted to Yale. As a varsity cross country runner, I was hooked. I became somewhat jealous of Alice during the story, of her “ability” to score a perfect boy like Miles. I also was bewildered by the fact in just 6 months of running she was completing a half marathon. I’ve been running two and a half years and have yet to attempt a half marathon. I thoroughly enjoyed the novel and I’m in the process of trying to get my parents to get me a rat. Additionally, as a rising high school junior I can connect with the challenge of college applications. My dream school is Duke, and I almost laughed when I saw you used to be an admissions officer there. I believe it is ridiculous how colleges have swindled my life choices without my knowledge. Since elementary school, I’ve been subconsciously duped into overextending myself in activities, both in and out of school. By the time I graduate high school, colleges expect me to captain a varsity sports team, become president of a club, volunteer hundred of hours, master a musical instrument, learn a foreign language, and found of a program to help needy kids. Along with this I’m supposed to allot time to getting a 4.6 GPA and at least a 34 on the ACT. All the while, a job is necessary to save money in order to pay $60,000 per year. I’ve been brainwashed and now that I’ve accomplished these goals but, I’m still worried that I will be denied or wait listed from the colleges I dream about. It’s absolutely insane what is expected from 18 year olds these days. I feel like you wonderfully portrayed this struggle through Alice. Book and tips in the acknowledgements have really made my think about my goals in running and school. Thank you for a wonderful novel and letting me to share my story! Thanks, Claire
And from another awesome reader who made my day,
My name is Sydney Clanton and I just finished reading your book 5 minutes ago. I found it in the new section at my school library. It is the best book I have ever read. Also my favorite book. I felt like I was Alice in so many ways. I love it so much.
I will also let you know that I cried six times while reading it. I counted. Mostly when XXX [edited to remove spoiler]. I love when a book makes me cry. I love that just words on paper can make my emotions go a full 360.
I also like that the whole book wasn’t about Mile’s and Alice’s romance. Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good romance novel. But it gets sort of boring after a while. One of my favorite things about your book is that it doesn’t just focus on one thing. It takes you all over the place. Kind of like this email :D. I especially enjoyed the parts about the rat research. I have wanted a rat for years now. I also would like to know how you came up with all of the ideas and what inspired you to write this book. I plan on buying it for myself from amazon when I can get money.
Also, It would be so wonderful if you could help me get started on running by giving me some advice. I have no idea what to do or where to start. I really need to get in shape.
In conclusion, I love your book and plan on reading it again sometime. I apologize for my email being sort of long, I just have a lot thoughts about this amazing book.
And one that made me cry:
Hi Rachel, Thank you so much for your book “On The Road to Find Out”. I picked it up at “Barnes and Noble”. Initially, I thought I had simply selected a book on running but it was so much more. Although I’m much older than the character in the novel, I could certainly identity with the theme. Recently, I have experienced loss of loved ones. Both my mother and father have passed away. Shortly thereafter, my dog (Boston Terrier Rudy) passed away after long brave struggle with cancer. I have also been the victim of corporate down-sizing and was laid off my job of over 30 years. Fortunately, the corporation that released me, has now hired me back. Being the oldest individual in the group presents a new challenge trying to determine just how I now fit into this new millennium. I sort of feel like the character “Alice”, at the end of the book giving her “Valedictory” speech. Things certainly have not turned out the way I planned, but I do keep trying. Your book gives me enthusiasm during my training runs to push past the point of pain. Another favorite part of the book was the run that Joan and Alice took together. Joan stops at one point, and communicates the grief felt at the loss of her husband, and how running became the counselor of choice. Unfortunately, I do not have a lot of education, and have always admired those who do make it to institutions such as Yale. In my early days, I would constantly wear my Yale/MIT Tee-Shirt, but I guess it just was not in the cards. Anyway, Now I feel a bit like Alice, as she wrote her manifesto to the rat lady Marie (Rodentiaphilia) . It is just that your book did definitely touch me, and I really wanted you to know. This is the first time I have ever written to any author. Thanks again for so an awesome book! Best regards, Sandra _________________
This one isn’t in response to my novel, but is from an amazing, off-the-charts talented and academically gifted student for whom I did a little college counseling (in exchange he helped me with something I was working on). It really shows how crazy this whole process is and what it does to kids. And then, how some kids are able to rise above all the noise.
Over the past few weeks I had kind of an “existential awakening,” and I realized that for these past few years I had focused nearly all of my time on doing things that would help me get into college, and everything that I had done, whether consciously or subliminally, could be rationalized based on the fact that “it would help me get into college, prepare me for future success, etc.” Which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy what I did, because I did enjoy the activities I did, but it’s more that I think the atmosphere at XXX turned me into a sort of “robot” – I was doing a bunch of things, but I never reflected on why I did the things I did. Everyone here is so focused on success and achievement, and people compete rigorously for it and judge each other based on each other’s accomplishments, and I realized that I had been sucked into that culture. But now I’ve begun to realize how meaningless and unauthentic that culture really is, and that success and achievement really aren’t as important as we make them seem to be. I think what’s more important is connecting with and caring for other people, both on an individual level and a societal level. And promoting social justice, because we’ve been so fortunate and privileged to even think about attending top-tier institutions and not have to worry about surviving day-to-day. I think that’s a much more meaningful goal to life than just trying to get into college (though much easier said than done). On a related note, I realized that I was so caught up in success that I wasn’t really taking time to live life outside of the “bubble” of XXX (similar to what I talked about in my Common App essay), and so these past few weeks I’ve started to take more time to explore things I haven’t done before as well as spend more time with friends and family. Last week I drove down to XXX by myself (I lived there for 9 years, and moved to XX 5 years ago), and visited several of my old friends, which was pretty nice. A few days before that, I went to XXX for a Student Government meeting, and we sneaked into a college party while we were there (*I didn’t say that*). I also went on a couple dates with a girl I like:)
Anyway, I’ve probably been rambling on about this, but I guess it just hit me how much we worry about college admissions and how we so narrow-mindedly view it as like the be-all and end-all of life. Of course I don’t think that college and success aren’t important at all, but just that there’s much more to life than simply an acceptance letter. Perhaps that’s why I’m not feeling anxious right now; in fact, I think I’m enjoying life now more so than I have in the past few years (well, besides waking up for morning classes…). All in all, I think I’ve just opened my mind a bit more to the real meaning and essence of life. Best,
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