On New Year's Day, Alice Davis goes for a run. Her first ever. It's painful and embarrassing, but so was getting denied by the only college she cares about. Alice knows she has to stop sitting around and complaining to her best friend, Jenni, and her pet rat, Walter, about what a loser she is. But what she doesn't know is that by taking those first steps out the door, she is setting off down a road filled with new challengesincluding vicious side stitches, chafing in unmentionable places, and race-paced first loveand strengthening herself to endure when the going suddenly gets tougher than she ever imagined, in On the Road to Find Out by Rachel Toor.
About the Author
Rachel Toor is the author of three previous books. She was an admissions officer at Duke University, a high school cross country coach, and a teacher of SAT prep classes. A senior writer at Running Times magazine, she teaches at Eastern Washington University in Spokane.
Read an Excerpt
I pumped my arms and covered ground with almost no effort. I was Superman. I was Nike—not the shoe company, but the winged goddess of victory. I could practically hear Bruce singing that tramps like us, baby—well, you know.
For one and a half blocks. That’s the part he left out. We may have been born to run—but not very far. After two blocks, everything started to hurt. I couldn’t get enough air and each leg weighed about eight hundred pounds. Great Lake–sized puddles lurked at every corner and I stepped in all of them. When I tried to leap across, I landed—splat!—in the deepest part.
I hadn’t expected to see so many people out on this dreary holiday morning. It took only a few minutes for me to realize my New Year’s resolution was typical, ordinary, and uninspired—just like me.
The boulevard was buzzing with runners, all trucking along in their tight tights and sporty vests, their long-sleeved shirts with the names of marathons or colleges or clothing brands plastered across the front, their baseball hats from professional football teams and their nondescript black beanies. Some had on backpacks and belts studded with water bottles, as if they were going to be traveling for days. Some people ran alone, and some were in groups. Those in groups chatted as if they were using no more energy than it would take to hoist a latte to their lips. When they came toward me they’d nod and raise a gloved hand.
Which reminded me I was not invisible. I hadn’t realized—when I squeezed into the jeggings my mother had bought me years ago (but that I only got to wear to school twice before my best friend, Jenni, told me they were already tragically unhip), donned a long-sleeved T-shirt from an unfortunate family trip to Disney World, and layered on one of my dad’s plain old slightly tatty sweatshirts—the superpower I would most want when I set out for my first run would be invisibility.
Each time someone ran past from behind, splattering me with dirty sidewalk water, I straightened up, went a little faster, and tried to hide how hard I was breathing.
And each time someone came toward me I’d look up only for a second, raise a paw in acknowledgment, and think: Don’t look at me. Please don’t look at me.
My feet hurt because I had secretly borrowed a pair of never-worn, slightly too-small running shoes I found in my mom’s shoe room. Yes, my mother has a room just for her shoes. Other people might call it a closet. But then, as Dad likes to point out, other people live in houses with less acreage than the space dedicated to my mother’s footwear. She’s a material girl, my mom, a doctor who earns enough jack to pay for everything she needs and wants, and a bunch of things that I neither need nor want.
My eyes never stopped watering and I had to constantly wipe my face with my sleeve. I’m sure I looked like I was sobbing throughout the whole thing. It might have been the wind, or maybe I was really crying.
My calves cramped up and I felt dizzy. On the other side of the street I could see a huddle of teens smoking cigarettes. Or something. They yelled an insult, or maybe it was just a whoop, a holler, and I thought again: Make me invisible.
My feet were furious. It felt like my arches had flattened into the shoes. Some jerks drove by in a pickup truck adorned with a Confederate flag and honked their horn. It scared me so much I jumped and landed funny and that made my feet hurt more. I wanted to scream, Go back to your cave, you howling trolls, but I didn’t say anything.
Then came the panting. I was breathing like a prank caller. My arms were so heavy I could hardly swing them.
And then a guy with long legs, floppy hair, and a dog that looked like Toto with trashy blond highlights passed me.
Hear this, people: I got passed by a dog who was off to see the Wizard. The little dude trotted fast on his abbreviated limbs. He held his head high—as high as you could hold a head on legs only about four inches tall. He wore a harness with a camo design, and his leash had rhinestones on it. His mini-legs were going like crazy.
The guy took graceful strides and did not seem like someone who would have a little dog dressed in camo at the end of a sparkly leash. Toto dogs go with blue-haired old ladies who smell like Cashmere Bouquet body powder and maybe the faintest hint of pee. People and their animals usually look right together. These two didn’t.
The guy was around my age. He was attractive. He was so attractive Jenni, a small girl of big appetites, would have referred to him as a tasty morsel. He glided along, his head straight, his arms tucked in neat by his sides.
I struggled to try to keep up with them and did. For about ten seconds. Then they pulled away.
I had been chilly when I left the house, but my body soon equilibrated (yes, I paid attention in honors chem), and I sweated through my layers. I stopped for a second to wrestle out of the sweatshirt and tie it around my waist, and looked up to see another pair of runners coming toward me, a guy and a girl. The girl had her hair pulled into a long ponytail and as she ran it swung from side to side, a blond metronome. She was smiling and he was smiling too and he said something and she laughed and she turned and socked the guy with a playful punch to the belly, and he bent over—all while they were still running—and when he stood up straight again I saw the sweatshirt he wore.
It said, “YALE.”
The burn rose from my stomach and settled in my throat. I could feel my face flush. I choked up.
The happy couple passed without a wave, without even noticing me, and I thought: Right. In some ways, I am invisible. I am nothing.
I slowed to a walk. My nose was full of snot and I didn’t have a tissue. I felt like throwing up. On this day, January 1, I had kept my New Year’s resolution and gone for my first run ever.
It was over in eight minutes.
For about seven and a half of those minutes, around 450 seconds, when I had been concentrating on running—on how much my body hurt, on what other people saw when they looked at me, and even on wondering what that hot guy was doing with a Toto dog—I had been able to forget that I, Alice Evelyn Davis, top student in my class at Charleston High School, champion taker of standardized tests, favorite of teachers, and only child of two achievement-focused parents, had been rejected Early Action from Yale University, the only college I ever wanted to go to.
Copyright © 2014 by Rachel Toor
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I hope every kid who's applying to college (and their families) read this book. Toor's heroine, Alice, a super-student with an incredible drive toward success, doesn't get in to the only college she's ever wanted to attend. In an attempt to help her deal, Alice's best friend gets her to make a New Year's resolution. Alice resolves to start running. What she learns about herself and her possible futures along the way is the meat of the book. Toor will draw you in with Alice's incredible, funny voice and keep you in with the emotional honesty of her writing.
On the Road to Find Out involves a main character who has received some devastating news and it depicts the story of how she comes to terms with life when it doesn't go the way she planned it. It's an important lesson, but this book lacked the emotional depth I anticipated. Reasons to Read: 1. Alice is startlingly real: We all know someone like Alice. Many of us (me included) likely share traits and experiences in common with her. She's fairly self-absorbed at times (aren't we all?), spoiled, and introverted. On the Road to Find Out chronicles a crisis period in Alice's life, a period of time where we get to see her grow up. She learns that life won't always go the way she plans, which is so true and a key life lesson for everyone. 2. A heartwarming running community: Alice doesn't intentionally join the running community, instead she halfheartedly stumbles into it. She finds a supportive, strong group of people among the local runners including friendly, warm Joan (who has her own remarkable story to share) and a competitive, cute athlete named Miles. I know there are going to be some readers who are bothered by Alice and won't enjoy the book for that reason. But it is beneficial for us to read about flawed characters, for many reasons. An important reason is because we are flawed ourselves, even if we don't care to admit it. Additionally it is important because there are certain stories that are best told with a flawed character. Alice's growth in this book wouldn't be half as remarkable if she was easy to like and mature from the get-go. In some ways, this book was not as fully developed as I would have liked. Alice's voice and sense of humour seemed distant at times, and by that I mean that it seemed she wasn't taking her own situation seriously. Her attitude towards this set-back was exaggerated and lacked the sincerity I would have expected from someone in her situation. Alice also has a very sarcastic, cynical attitude which really comes out in her sense of humour. I can see how only certain readers might be able to appreciate that aspect of her character and enjoy reading about it. On the Road to Find Out is an enjoyable little story, with a very important lesson behind it which I believe is particularly relevant to teenagers and young adults. ARC received from Raincoast Books for review; no other compensation was received.