The Real Rosa
In The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen, the protagonist Jessica is struggling to adapt to her new life, having lost one of her legs. Rosa, another character in the story, also faces a disability of her own and helps Jessica during this difficult time. Born with cerebral palsy, Rosa is often overlooked and misunderstood by others. However, she possesses wonderful qualities that should make people appreciate her. Throughout the book, Rosa successfully reveals her true self to those who know her intimately, instead of being solely seen as a wheelchair-bound girl with speech difficulties. She achieves this by showcasing her amiability, dedication to helping others, and unwavering optimism.
Despite the unfriendliness of others towards her, Rosa consistently exudes friendliness towards them. The book illustrates this firsthand through her correspondence with Jessica, as well as her dedication to tutoring others in her math class. Even when Jessica is confined to a wheelchair and asked to sit at the back of the room with Rosa, Rosa remains open and friendly towards her. The notes she writes to Jessica provide valuable support during her mental rehabilitation, covering topics ranging from inquiries and quotes to casual conversations and thought-provoking words. These notes have such a profound impact on Jessica that she keeps them, unable to bring herself to discard them. In one particular note exchange, when Jessica expresses doubts about the feasibility of obtaining a running leg, Rosa offers the reassurance: “So was walking.” In The Running Dream, Rosa extends her tutoring services to two classmates. Initially, she tutors her newfound friend Jessica, and later assists a boy in their class after Jessica encourages him to seek her help. As a result of Rosa’s guidance, Jessica achieves her highest math test score to date. Overall, Rosa’s friendliness and openness to others represent perhaps her most outstanding characteristic.
Rosa finds joy in assisting others, which further allows her to establish connections with fellow students. This is predominantly evident through her involvement in tutoring. In the book, Rosa becomes aware of Jessica’s struggle with her math work while they are seated together at the back of the class. Upon learning that Jessica’s friend Fiona is unable to offer assistance, Jessica turns to Rosa for help. Subsequently, they decide to convene at Rosa’s house to study and enjoy snacks, resulting in an unexpectedly enjoyable time together. As mentioned in the book, “Rosa not only rescues Jessica academically but also guides her towards a future brimming with unforeseen opportunities.” Although their friendship initially stems from tutoring, it develops into something much more profound.
Later on, a male classmate who sits in front of them in math is astonished by their exceptional grades when he is struggling. Rosa ultimately aids him during lunchtime in room 402. The act of aiding others appears to bring great delight to Rosa.
Despite facing numerous struggles, Rosa maintains a positive attitude that even influences Jessica. Although Rosa has battled her condition her entire life, Jessica has only recently experienced a similar situation. However, Rosa remains happier and her optimistic perspective eventually helps Jessica overcome her own challenges. Witnessing Rosa’s mindset prompts Jessica to recognize flaws in her own viewpoint. Moreover, Rosa’s optimism empowers her mentally and physically. This aligns with Jessica’s belief that if the mind lacks strength, the body will act weakly. By embodying this philosophy, Rosa develops the strength necessary to truly live, not just survive.
Rosa desires to be seen as a person rather than defined by her disability. In order to escape the judgments of others, she turns to online communities where she can communicate freely without her disability being visible. She longs for the same acceptance and understanding from people in the real world. As the story progresses, Rosa’s best qualities become evident, helping her to partially realize her dream. By simply being herself, Rosa is able to show her true self and gain friends who see beyond her disability.