What Made Maddy Run

By Kate Fagan
320 pp. Back Bay Books. $16.99.

The book’s jacket declares the conclusion to “What Made Maddy Run”. Turning the pages, the progression to Maddy Holleran’s demise is certain. A futile longing for any alternate conclusion was a constant in my mind. Examining the events preluding the breakdown of this beautiful, brilliant, and wonderfully athletic person can be distressing. Coming out of high school, Holleran’s light shines with a sky’s-the-limit intensity. In shockingly little time, promise turns to tragedy. As with every suicide, only so much can be retrieved from the victim’s mind. Author Kate Fagan performs this investigation in admirable fashion, bringing to light social media’s ability to misdirect, and compels every parent, friend, and neighbor to strive for better awareness of each other’s mental health.

“What Made Maddy Run” maintains a balance. Fagan shares the consequential events she’s able to glean from Holleran’s text and Instagram posts, as well as family and friend recounts. That discourse is complemented with broader, culture-based discussions, profiling different aspects of our society which contribute to the proliferation of suicidal tendencies. Also, there are similarities in the backgrounds of Fagan and Holleran. Here, Fagan enlists these parallels, perhaps in attempt to make Holleran’s woes more relatable, thereby bringing greater exposure to her demons.

Holleran graduates high school on the upswing. Her youth had long been about preparing for the next chapter (college). She succeeded academically but it appears her athleticism garnered greater acclaim. She loved soccer and excelled at it, specifically finding joy in the team-based aspect of the sport. She’s recruited by Lehigh University and verbally commits. However, when soccer is out of season, Holleran maintains her fitness running track, and in the second half of her high school career it’s her running talents that stand out. Her fast times earn the attention of Harvard and Penn. She would never attend Lehigh. Instead, the Ivy League allure leads Holleran to Penn.

In college now, this period would be the antithesis of her high school experience. Overwhelmed by the demands of competing at the Division 1 level, Holleran loses her lust for running. In the classroom, Holleran had difficulty adjusting to the concept of being graded on a curve (whereas, formally her grades were based directly on her individual performance). Her confidence erodes. Thinning, Holleran shows the physical impacts of stress. Upon fall semester completion, the girl that arrived at Penn, smiling and light-hearted, returns home depressed, clearly unhappy.

Holleran discusses potential solutions with family and friends. Transfer to another school? Take a semester off? Holleran’s unclear whether doing so equates to a cure-all, but believes quitting track is her best option. She returns to Penn post winter break. Positive and forward looking, she tries enforcing a new mindset. Also, she meets her coach, Steve Dolan, and delivers a well-rehearsed notice for ending her track participation. Dolan responds with overtures intended to sway her back to the team. Holleran’s compelled to remain. Shortly thereafter, the new mindset would give way to darkness. Sadly, this time, Holleran surrenders to her demons.

Quality, constructive comments aren’t always easy to discern and “What Made Maddy Run” deserves this designation. Oddly, an impression related to the book’s font size was persistent. It’s enormous. Is that a silly critique? Perhaps it’s intended to attract young adult readers? At least it’s friendly to the farsighted reader. While the book is 300+ pages, you may may feel underwhelmed if you value quantity. Quality on the other hand? Running for a copy of “What Made Maddy Run” is recommended.


#DidYouKnow courtesy “What Made Maddy Run”: In a testament to it’s highly regarded place in the running community, the novel “Once A Runner” is referenced in these pages. Holleran’s coach assigns it to her to read over winter break. In turn, Holleran references a portion of it to Dolan in her attempt to explain her intention to quit track, notably the “fatigue-depression” state she asserts to running.

#Follow Kate Fagan Here