Running Wide Open by Lisa Nowak

Publisher: Webfoot Publishing (June 13, 2011)

Format: Kindle Edition

What, what, what are you doing?! Put down that mundane YA novel full of tawdry sexual undertones and some vaguely paranormal plot points and take a peek at a book that will make you sit back and go, woah! All your usual YA selling points are just thrown out the window here and believe me, you’ll either appreciate it or hate it but you’ll definitely have an opinion about it. Running Wide Open gives us:

1. A male protagonist

2. No touchy-feely stuff

3. Stock car racing

4. Excellent writing

5. Absolutely NO romance. At all. EVER.

All this can be either good or bad depending on your mood but more about that after the break.

Plot: After a minor brush with the law, 15 year old Cody Everett has to choose between living with his uncle, Race, in Eugene, Oregon or getting shipped off to military school. He chooses Race and is immediately thrust into the world of stock car racing in which his uncle, the black sheep of the family, is something of a legend. Uncle Race lives on the wrong side of the tracks in a run down trailer literally down by the river. But when he gets behind the wheel of a car, Race is a driving god who has integrity and a sense of honor to back up his skills. Being constantly subjected to cars, racing, and the track, Cody slowly starts to show an interest in Race’s world and together the two begin to form a bond based on trust and mutual understanding, something that Cody lacks with his own father and mother. Then tragedy strikes leaving Race immobilized and Cody must come to terms with his uncle’s rehabilitation and the very real and devastating possibility that he may never drive again.

Review: Now, I consider myself a bit of a YA aficionado. This title has been hard won (and self-given) after many years of devouring YA novels, good and bad, crappy covers or no, and excellent to sub-par writing. I can honestly say this is the first one I’ve ever read that includes a male protagonist and no romance at all. AT ALL. Well, to be honest, there is a little bit of tension between Race and his female sponsor but still…not even a kiss?! Wow, right? I felt exactly the same way. “This is refreshing and novel,” I thought approvingly as I plunged in. You see, I had been reading far too many books about love, and feelings, and all that other relationship

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stuff that we girls seem to thrive on and was plain, ol’ burnt out. I wanted as far away from lovey dovey feelings as I could get and Running Wide Open seemed to be the perfect antidote. And it was a nice change until the inevitable happened: now maybe this is a very glaring example of the differences between men and women but by about mid-book I realized that I wanted there to be a bit of love and romance, even started craving it, and when it still didn’t appear, I became frustrated in a way that I do not like when reading. Frustrated to the point where I considered stopping mid-way! Ellen says that’s my defeatest attitude shining through but it’s not, honest. I just needed something more. That’s not to say the book is bad because believe me, it’s far from it. This is a fabulous coming of age story about a boy who’s finally found a family that appreciates him and someone to love him for who he is. It’s also a very revealing look at the world of stock car racing which I for one have had no exposure to and found pretty interesting in a peripheral way. It is well written, poignant, includes a few shocking passages, and a lot of heart break, but the one thing it lacked was romance. And in the world of YA fiction, a genre read almost exclusively by young girls and women, the lack of romance is a bit of a deal breaker. Let me stress again: this is a well-wrought story but it always felt like it was lacking something. The possibility of romance usually drives a book and with it gone, the story never seemed to go anywhere. It stagnated and felt like it needed a bit of a push to make the action move. If Cody had been given a love interest, or the romance between Race and Ms. Sponsor had gone somewhere, maybe that would have spurred the plot on but as it stands, the book floundered in parts. It is still a far cry above a lot of the books I’ve been reading (and yes, I’m looking at you 50 Shades of Grey) and earns itself some serious points.

So based on the following criteria:

How much did I like the hero: 8. For an obnoxious 15 year old boy, I liked Cody. A lot. He is articulate, well read, and a bit of a big mouth. But he lost points for being so obviously in need of someone to love him but not recognizing it himself. Also the fact that we had to know what and how much he ate all the time was a little unnecessary and a bit gross.

How much did I like the love interest: 0. There wasn’t one! How can this be?!

How believable is the plot: 9. Amazingly believable plot though a bit predictable–as soon as Race has his accident you can just tell he won’t be racing again and that it’s going to come as a shock to everyone. Right on cue they’re shocked. But otherwise, great plot about a boy in need of love and the fact that he finds it in his uncle and racing.

How much did I like the writing style/editing/etc: 9. Lisa Nowak has a very clear voice that is appealing and verbose without being wordy. In short, she writes extremely well for a debut novelist and makes me glad authors like her are taking matters into their own hands and publishing books on their own. Her dialogue is excellent, pacing is spot on (minus the tendency to drag a bit but that could be because she was steering clear of the love), and her descriptions are superb.

How much did I want to keep reading: 9. Except when it dragged a bit, I really wanted to learn more about Cody and see if Race would finally become the champ everyone knew he could be before the accident. The ending feels a bit abrupt so hopefully that means the second book in the series will continue where this one left off.

Final Score: 9/10. Excellent beginning to a series or as a standalone. I loved the fact that the protagonist was male and it was ultimately not a love story, though I guess one could make the claim that Cody did in fact love his uncle and it *was* a love story of a different sort. All in all, I would highly recommend this as a good, fun read but don’t expect romance to pop up somewhere along the way. It won’t. Sorry.

****Disclaimer: I got this book for free from the author. I swear I didn’t bribe her in any way, or get paid for my review. And we might not be legit enough to need this disclaimer but after working at a law firm for many years it’s better safe than sorry!****

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