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“Racing is nothing but running full tilt, leaning a little farther forward, and moving your legs fast enough that you don’t frickin’ fall down. It’s a balance between running with reckless abandon and staying in control. If you find that balance, you feel like you’re flying,” Leo. —Running Full Tilt
Running Full Tilt
by Michael Currinder
Summer is ending, which means Leo is about to start at a new high school. His family just moved from a neighborhood to a more secluded house because of his older brother, Caleb. Caleb has autism and cognitive delays, which have gotten him into trouble a few times, like when he broke into his neighbor’s house and started asking them random questions. While Leo’s family’s move may have left the neighbors with more peaceful lives, Leo’s life is anything but serene. Caleb has taken to attacking Leo in the middle of the night, and Leo can’t figure out why. To escape these fits and calm his anger, Leo goes for long runs.
Subsequently, this newfound talent for long-distance running lands Leo a spot on the cross-country team where he meets Curtis, the fastest runner in school. Seeing Leo’s potential, Curtis takes him under his wing. He devises running strategies for each meet, and he and Leo climb to the top of the state ranks. Leo also meets and eventually dates Mary, an artistic girl with piercing green eyes. Throughout the year, Leo’s relationships with Curtis and Mary grow, and they help him appreciate his brother. Caleb even picks up running and, with Leo’s help, runs a half marathon.
One day Leo comes home elated after qualifying for state at a track meet. His celebration is short-lived though, as his parents have tragic news. Caleb drowned in a community pool. Leo can no longer run away from his problems with his brother; he has to find a way to cope.
Running Full Tilt is told in the first person from Leo’s point of view, which will help readers connect with him. Readers will watch Leo grow as a brother, boyfriend, and friend. Although he isn’t always the best boyfriend, Mary teaches him it’s okay to confide in others. Curtis becomes a big brother to Leo, helping him be a stronger runner and person. Curtis, Leo, and Mary are very witty; readers will enjoy reading their playful banter. Runners will appreciate Currinder’s vivid depictions of races, strategies, and maybe even pick up a few tips.
In addition to being an excellent book for runners, Running Full Tilt also deals with the implications of having a family member with cognitive issues. Mary tells Leo she thought Caleb looked “normal,” causing Leo to jump to Caleb’s defense: “Who’s to say what’s normal?” Leo feels guilty for “always being a step ahead” of Caleb when he is the younger brother, which he suspects is the reason for Caleb’s outbursts. Leo’s parents are unhappily married (it’s hinted that both are having an affair) and deal with Caleb’s behavior in different ways. Leo and Caleb have their fights, but Leo learns not to dwell on them and appreciate the good days. Running Full Tilt is a good book if readers want to be invested in the characters. They are flawed yet endearing, and readers will relate to them. It is a fast-paced, entertaining story that will both break and warm readers’ hearts.
- Leo hears a guy called Itchy and thinks, “I figured Itchy was probably just some dude from their football team with ringworm or a bad case of jock itch.”
- Stuper, one of the guys on the track team, was absent because he was at the hospital. His friend Rosenthal explains, “He’s got a bad case of poison ivy… he ducked into the woods to go to the bathroom. He wiped himself with it… At first he wouldn’t tell his parents. He thought it was herpes because he’d just seen pictures of it in health class… we reminded him that the only way you can get herpes is through sexual contact.” The guys laugh, suggesting Stuper has never had any sexual contact.
- At the end of their first date, Leo and Mary kiss. Leo “slowly leaned toward her and closed my eyes, then felt our lips touch. I felt her hands gently moving up to my biceps… I just couldn’t believe how sweet her skin smelled and how soft her lips felt.” When they get back to Leo’s house they kiss again, but the kiss is not described. Leo thinks, “I probably should have kissed her longer.”
- Leo sees his mom at the movie theater holding hands with a man who is not his dad. This upsets him because his parents are still married. Mary suggests his mom is having an “emotional affair.” Leo thinks, “I fought hard to block the images forming in my mind.” He asks Mary, “Like friends with benefits friends?” Mary answers, “No, it’s not like that. It’s like having some huge crush on someone but not really acting on it.”
- At a Halloween party, a guy has “a potato dangling out of his fly from something that resembled a coat hanger.” He explains he is dressed up as a “dicktater.”
- After Curtis tells Leo to “grow some balls” and rescue Mary from the guy who is flirting with her, Leo says, “screw you.” Curtis replies, “Leo, that’s fine by me. I’m not on that team, but I’m an enlightened individual. I’ve got no problem if you are.”
- Leo says that he and Mary are “acting like old people, the kind who never get off their porches to do anything. That was, until Mary’s mother began dating some new guy. Then we started getting to know each other in new ways.”
- Leo talks about how cold it is to run in the winter and how it affects his body. “Winter training included running in temperatures so frigid that even after a warm shower I didn’t see portions of my anatomy that had recently become very important to me for six hours. When I considered Mary in the equation, I wondered if it was all worth it.”
- After running a race in the sleet, Curtis tells Leo, “If I don’t get under a hot shower soon, there’s a serious chance I’ll never see my testicles again.”
- Leo’s family goes to the Special Olympics in Ford Leonard Wood. Leo asks his dad why there are so many massage parlors. His dad answers, “There are about ten thousand young men on that military base. And very few women. Do I have to give you a lesson on the birds and the bees, Leo?” Leo assures his dad, “I think I get it.”
- Leo describes what it’s like being a distance runner in a race. “They run in packs, with steel spikes sharp as steak knives attached to their feet. Inside a tight pack moving at close to four-minute-mile pace, the spikes like barracuda teeth slashing at calves and shins from front and back, elbows and fists box for position.”
- Leo witnesses a freshman being bullied. “The ringleader, a burly guy wearing a football jersey with the name Glusker plastered over numbers, had his victim down on his knees, hands behind his back, pushing a tiny peanut across the tile floor with his nose. Glusker guided the kid by nudging his ass with the tip of his Timberland boot along a parade route lined by laughing upperclassmen.”
- Caleb is angry because Leo gets a higher allowance. Leo notices Caleb is getting agitated, and finally Caleb “smashed into me from behind. I smacked my head against an end table and collided with the wall… He slapped my head with one open hand and started pounding the other side of my face with his fist. Then he grasped my throat with his right hand and started trying to jab his left thumb into my eye… I fought to grab a handful of his hair with one hand and his ear with my other, and I pinched and pulled with everything I had before he finally screamed and released me.”
- While Leo folds laundry, Caleb attacks. “He took me by surprise when he jumped me, but I managed to pull his hair, knee him in the groin, and take off running.”
- Caleb attacks Leo in the middle of the night. Caleb “had trouble pinning me with his knees in the darkness, but he managed to slap my head a couple of times before going for my eyes. I got a knee into his crotch, pulled his hair, slipped out from under him.”
- When Caleb attacks Leo in the middle of the night, Leo usually “smacked him on his back a couple of times [with a Little League bat], he usually rolled off me, and if that didn’t work, I pinched and pulled his ears and hair.”
- Leo finds Caleb having a seizure. “Caleb was on the floor thrashing and writhing. His eyes were rolled back in the sockets, eyelids fluttering, and he was making this terrible wheezing sound like he couldn’t breathe. Both arms were stiff and extended, and his head lifted and thudded against the tile floor… His lips and face began to turn a strange bluish gray.” Leo and his parents bring Caleb to the hospital, and Caleb is okay a few days later.
- At a Halloween party, Glusker mistakes Curtis for a guy who is dating his ex-girlfriend and beats him up. “Glusker came barreling across the lawn and blindsided Curtis, rolling him onto his back and pummeling his head with his fists… Curtis’s nose was gushing.”
- Leo and Curtis are running on a golf course when they see a buck dart out from the forest. “The buck was in mid-stride when it suddenly stopped and fell to its side. The shaft and quill of an arrow were plunged deeply inside its heart… I looked at the fallen buck, its torso still rising and falling slowly, its legs still clawing at the earth as it clung to life.” Two men with bows emerged from the forest, and one “pulled a pistol from his pack, ready to finish off the job.”
- Caleb was in a bad mood all day, so Leo was ready for him to attack that night. Caleb “came at me quick and had my shoulders pinned with his knees and both hands around my neck in seconds. I thrashed and kicked. He went for my eyes with one hand, pushing two fingers deep into my left socket… I grabbed the baseball bat tucked beside my mattress and smacked his shoulder blades sharply three times before he rolled off me.”
Drugs and Alcohol
- Leo’s dad comes home late, and “he had a sheepish grin on his face like he’d already had a few.” Leo’s mom is upset with her husband for coming home late and for drinking. To try to make amends, Leo’s dad “grabbed two glasses from the cabinet. He snatched some ice cubes from the freezer and poured some vodka. When he set a glass next to Mom… she nudged it away with the tip of her knife.”
- Leo goes to a Halloween party, and there is “a birdbath filled with ice and beer in the corner of the yard.” Leo and Curtis don’t drink because they have a race coming up.
- Leo and his friends watch a guy flirt with a girl, then lead her away from the party. Curtis complains, “Why can’t I do that?” His friend responds, “I think she’s already had a few.”
- Mary is drinking at a party. Angry with Leo for not calling her, she takes “another sip of liquid courage” and fusses at Leo. She says she waited all week for him to call and even drove past his house a few times. After she confesses this, she is ashamed and says, “I can’t believe I just told you all that crap.”
- While Leo and Curtis are running on a golf course, they see two hunters “toting a couple of Budweisers.”
- After visiting Caleb at the hospital, his dad “came into the kitchen, went directly to the cabinet, and poured himself a drink.”
- Profanity is used frequently. Profanity includes: damn, crap, holy crap, ass, jackass, smartass, shit, holy shit, chickenshit, bullshit, shit-eating, dipshit, shitload, shitting, frickin’, freakin’, hell, bitching, pissed, and prick.
- “Christ,” “for Christ’s sake,” “Jesus,” “God,” and “Geezuz” are frequently used as exclamations.
- After witnessing some guys bully a school janitor, Leo asks Mary, “Did you see what those morons were doing to the guy?” Mary responds, “What those idiots were doing was wrong on so many levels.”
- Curtis tells Leo to “sit his butt down” when he calls Mary over to their lunch table.
- When Leo sees a guy flirting with Mary, Curtis tells him to “grow some balls” and go rescue her. Leo replies, “screw you” and gives him “the one-finger salute.”
- After Curtis yells at a man for killing a buck, the man tells him, “Why don’t you and your little faggot friend just run along.”
- Leo’s maternal grandmother and his dad dislike each other. Leo’s grandmother frequently calls his dad “Flat Ass,” and his dad frequently calls her “Bubble Butt.”
- When the track coach tells the track team they will be practicing inside due to the cold weather, Curtis complains, “Only wusses run indoors.”
- Caleb keeps talking to Leo even though it’s late, and Leo “wished to God my older brother would stop talking nonsense and just close his eyes and go back to sleep.”
- Caleb frequently asks Leo riddles that only make sense to himself. Caleb asks Leo what kind of car God drives and when Leo can’t answer, Caleb shouts, “God drive brown Thunderbird Ford!”
- Every night, Caleb tells Leo, “Good night, Leo. God love you.” Leo wonders what Caleb means. “Did God love me, or him?”
- After planting a nickel in a bully’s sandwich, Leo feels a hand touch his shoulder. He is scared, but turns around to see it’s a girl. He thinks, “Thank God.”
- After going for a run, Leo finds Caleb sitting in the grass. Caleb “smiled and laughed as he talked about God and the Thunderbird Ford.”
- Leo takes Caleb to the pool. In the car ride, Leo “spent the twenty-minute drive listening to Caleb laugh and chatter away about God and rocky road ice cream.”
- Leo’s mom asks if Leo wants fish sticks or cheese pizza for dinner. He explains, “Our family abandoned the church a couple of years ago, but Mom still harbored some residual Catholic guilt and clung to a few traditions like no meat on Fridays.”
- Leo invites Curtis over for dinner. Caleb insists they pray before eating dinner. In response, Leo whispers, “Amen!” to himself, and Curtis mouths, “Jesus!”
- Caleb prays “his unique version” of grace: “Blessed our Lord, for these our gifts, about to receive, from my bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
- After Caleb attacks Leo, Caleb asks him, “God not punish you?” and, “Jesus love you?” Leo answers no, God will not punish him, and yes, Jesus loves him.
- Every time Caleb attacks Leo, he asks, “God not punish you, Leo?” Leo wonders what Caleb means and assumes when Caleb says “you,” Caleb means himself. Leo thinks, “‘For some reason he seemed to have a fear of God – even after we stopped attending church. How did someone like Caleb, who often struggled to understand the world around him, become so concerned about God—some abstract, invisible force that we barely mentioned in this house?” Every time, Leo assures Caleb God will not punish him.
- Caleb’s dad threatens Caleb with committing him to the hospital after finding out Caleb has been attacking Leo at night. His dad gets frustrated and screams, “Jesus!” Caleb yells, “Make God angry!” His dad responds, “You’re making God and me freakin’ angry,” and Caleb apologizes, “Sorry God!”
- Leo overdid it during track practice. “I spent the next two minutes bent over, clutching my knees, praying I wouldn’t throw up lunch.”
- While Leo and his mom wait for Caleb in the emergency room, Leo thinks, “I couldn’t tell if her lips were trembling or if she was mumbling prayers.”
- When Leo and Mary talk on the phone, there is a long silence that is finally broken by Mary. Leo thinks, “Thank God she was the one who finally spoke.”
- Mary and Leo go to the movie theater but can’t find a parking spot until “the parking gods made a spot miraculously appear right in front of the theater.”
- During a date, Leo wonders, “how in God’s name I’d scored a date with this girl.”
- When they arrive at a party, Curtis tells Leo they are not drinking because they have a race coming up. Leo replies, “As you said, we shall treat our bodies as holy temples, Curtis, until our mission is completed next Saturday.”
- During a race, Leo hopes he will have enough energy to overtake the lead runner. “I opened my stride on the downhill, breathed deeply, and said a quick prayer that I would have enough strength for when it was time to do the real work.”
- While driving, Mary asks Leo for his life story. Leo thinks, “May the traffic gods be with me.” He hopes they’ll arrive at their destination soon because he doesn’t want to tell her about his life.
- Leo asks Curtis why he runs, and Curtis responds, “I run to keep my demons at bay.”
- Before Caleb participates in the Special Olympics race, he tells Leo, “Poke Leo’s eyeballs out middle of the night!” Leo says to not talk about that right now. Caleb says, “Sorry, Leo! What sorry mean?” Leo responds, “Sorry means God not punish you.”
- When Caleb requests Long John Silver’s for dinner, his dad tells Leo, “Start praying that damn restaurant is still open.” Leo “starts praying.”
- Mary asks Leo why Caleb makes little piles of grass in their yard. Leo jokes, “Our family belongs to a pagan cult that worships the moles that reside in the underworld. Our winter-solstice ceremony is fast approaching. Caleb has been commissioned by the high priest to create the burial mounds where we will make sacrifices.”
- Caleb drowns in a swimming pool. Leo’s mom starts to say, “You know, Niles, I was the one who said-” Leo’s dad assumes she is starting to say it’s his fault Caleb drowned, and he explodes: “Oh no, Elise. You think I haven’t thought about letting him go swimming by himself? I hope to God you’re-” He is interrupted by Leo telling his parents to pull themselves together.
- Leo approaches Caleb in his casket. He whispers to him, “Peace, brother. God love you.”
- After seeing Caleb in the casket, Leo sobs. He composes himself and “stared blankly at a picture of Christ with his arms raised, thinking about all the times I had assured Caleb that God loved him.”
- Curtis asks Leo why Caleb’s funeral is open-casket, and Leo says, “I think it’s a Catholic thing.”
- Leo’s grandfather tells him he’s going to teach him how to play cards. Leo’s grandmother disapproves, saying, “For the love of God, let go of the past, Bernard.”
by Jill Johnson