“A Heart in a Body in the World” by Deb Caletti
High school senior Annabelle is running from Seattle to Washington, DC—2700 miles—in Deb Caletti’s “A Heart in a Body in the World” (Simon Pulse 2018). She’s running away from excruciating mental pain and toward having to face her recent trauma.
Along the way you get what she’s so upset about, in general, but you want to know the specifics. Annabelle is a victim, yes, but her run becomes a form of activism against violent injustice.
Before the event happened, Annabelle Agnelli was a sweet girl with a life full of friends. She worked at a coffee house and for an elder care facility. Caletti writes, “She is sick to death of being a sweetheart. Also, that kind of naïve kindness is akin to standing on a busy freeway and gazing at the beauty of the sun.”
Grandpa Ed follows in his old RV to feed and lodge her each evening. Back in Seattle her younger brother Malcolm starts a PR team, which creates her route, and sets up a funding page, publicity, and support. Her mom, Gina, tries to allow her daughter this freedom. Her estranged father left the family years go to become a Catholic priest.
Annabelle is on the cross-country team at school, but a half marathon—sixteen miles—every day is grueling. Still, running is tiring her out and the rhythmic pace soothes her, which helps the anxiety. “It was like driving a screaming baby around in a car.”
What do we know? There was a boyfriend named Will. He dropped her. There was a BFF named Kat. There is someone only known as “the Taker.” And who is Seth Gregory? What does Annabelle remember? She flirted. She feels guilty—so guilty.
We hear about Annabelle’s insights on running, blisters so bad she is in the ER one night, and a pretty major breakdown after she witnesses a deer soaring into the air when hit by a truck. In between she reveals what had happened. In the meantime her very Italian Grandpa Ed meets an aging hippie, Dawn Celeste, and her grandson Luke Messenger. Every now and then the four meet up overnight along the route. Annabelle doesn’t want anything to do with them. Until she does.
In the middle of the summer they pause in Chicago—right downtown. She, her family and entire Seattle team unite for a little respite. Along the way she turns 18 and there’s another party at a diner. The all-day running gives her time to think. And feel. “There are so many colliding messages—confidence and shame, power and powerlessness, what she owes others and what is hers—that she can’t hear what’s true.”
It’s not easy, to talk about it, but she agrees to speak to a gymnasium full of high school students in Pennsylvania. She says that, when the trouble began she thought the adults would handle it. “I thought they’d keep us all safe. That didn’t happen. That still isn’t happening.” She does more speaking. She tells a group, “When I am on a mountain road, say, and the wind is pressing me . . . I am pressing back. I am shoving against my helplessness.”
I think you will find the story and the insights more than useful.
Patricia Hruby Powell teaches “Writing for Children and Young Adult Readers” at Parkland Continuing Education talesforallages.com