I can vividly recall the first time I stood up for myself to my mother. It was an inconsequential thing, for most of my childhood my mother had dressed my sister and me in similar outfits. We were often confused as twins since there’s only a two-year difference between us. I can’t recall why this bothered me but it did, so one day I told my mother that I didn’t want to dress alike anymore, that I wanted my own style. I remember feeling scared that I would hurt her feelings but also the importance of standing up for myself. It’s hard to stand up to family because deep down we figure that what they do for us they do out of love, and it can be one of the greatest challenges you ever face. It’s one of the challenges that Mariana Ruiz is forced to make in the amazing YA novel, Running.
“My father has been a politician for as long as I can remember. It’s not something I ever had to get used to. It just was.”
Mariana’s father is running for President. He’s currently a Florida Senator, running as a Latino candidate. Mariana loves her father, she admires his tenacity, his dedication to fight for what he believes, and when we first meet her, she believes he can do no wrong. Of course, this is a lie that is quickly dispelled as we grow older and we are forced to see that our parents are fallible and deeply human. It isn’t disrespect or disloyalty to question your parents, no matter what they’d have to say about the matter. Part of growing up is forging your own path, unlearning certain beliefs as you start delving into the world around you.
“”Mariana. We do not talk like that in this family. What would people say?”
People. He’s always saying that, like there’s some invisible audience watching us at all times.”
As the presidential campaign unfolds, this invisible audience becomes more present in the lives of the Ruiz family. Image becomes paramount and privacy almost nonexistent, which can be irritating to a girl that wishes she had the charm her father innately possesses but is just trying to become invisible. At the same time, Mariana starts questioning what her father actually stands for. She’s supported him her whole life but when forced to reckon what his position is on issues that matter, she completely draws a blank. It’s as if she’s been indoctrinated to follow her father blindly her whole life and once she starts looking around her she doesn’t know who he truly is, only what he has shown her he is.
Mariana is truly the girl character I would have wished I had growing up and one that I am so excited to share with my youngest sister and nieces. I’m proud that they’ll have Mariana as a role model. As we continue following the Ruiz family through Antonio’s presidential race, we see the cracks in the foundation, cracks that we are unaware of when we’re younger, but that seem so obvious as we continue to experience life. Mariana starts hanging out with an activist group at school that makes her aware of the power she holds because of her father, a power to make changes, to be heard when so often those around her are not, and when decisions made by those in power affect those she loves. Mariana is afraid of this power because she doesn’t know how to wield it, and to be frank, she doesn’t want it. She’s learning to reconcile the fantasy she had of her parents, these people she put on pedestals, with humans that can make wrong decisions, while standing up for what she believes in, even when it goes against her family.
At the same time, this power that she is learning about has her viewing her relationship with those around her, including her amazing friend, Gloria, who had hidden a part of her life because of Mariana’s father’s beliefs. How much of a friendship is there when the power dynamics are tilted in your favor? Impact and intent are also explored in this book. Sometimes an ideology is filled with the best of intentions, but the execution towards these ideals deals with an impact that can’t be ignored.
This was truly one of the best YAs I’ve read all year (in a year filled with amazing YA books). I was rooting for Mari from beginning to end, I understood her struggle to stand up for herself, to stand up against her family (while remaining loyal to them), to try to find out a way to be herself and still be by their side. It’s a struggle, one that’s not often talked about especially in a country where we already feel displaced and feel as if we have to stand up for our community no matter what. Mari shows us there’s a way to stand up for yourself and for them, a way to open a dialogue to get to feel content with yourself and your community. This was truly inspirational and I hope you all will give it a chance. Don’t forget to vote in this coming election, too. This book is a reminder of how much power we have, how it matters that we stand up and have our voices heard. My journey with my mother and my assertion of self has been a long and arduous one that makes the first instance I stood up for myself so vivid in my memories. I wish I would have had someone like Mari growing up to remind me that loving and respecting your family doesn’t have to come at the expense of your beliefs and growth. Highly recommend you read this one!
By Natalia Sylvester
336 pages. 2020.