Blurbs are written to attract a potential reader to a book, and after reading the back cover of the gorgeous hardback sent to me by Two Roads, which told of overcoming gender inequality in 1920s Canada, I knew Girl Runner was my kind of novel.
Aganetha Smart was a poor farm girl who could run like the wind. But this was rural Canada in the 1920s when girls didn’t run, they didn’t train, they didn’t compete or dream of the Olympics and they certainly didn’t win.
Aganetha Smart was about to change all that.
The story alternates between Aganthea aged 104 and in a nursing home, and Aganetha as she grows up. We follow her throughout her life, first as a gutsy tomboy, then as a young girl pursuing her dream to be the first female winner of the 1928 Olympics in track, despite facing gender inequality and the pain of a first love, and then as an adult, reflecting on the past. All the while, Aggie is weighed down by a secret that could tear her family apart. Both time periods are full of drama, and the present-day Aggie is whisked away from her nursing home by two strangers, and taken back to the farm she grew up on.
I loved Aggie as the main character. She is daring and fiercly loyal, yet has a tendency to love too easily and lack self-confidence, which I found frustrating at times. She is real, torn between defying the constrictions of society and the consequences that this will bring. The book is full of deep, authentic relationships. There is the complex complicity between Aggie and her fellow runner and best friend, Glad, the unconditional love of a mother for her daughter, sibling rivalry, and the unique childhood bond that formed between Aggie and her eldest sister, unbreakable even through death. It is this last relationship that I found particularly moving, and it added another layer to the story. Aganetha and Fanny, despite their age difference, are so casually aware of each other’s love for the other, and Fanny’s words “I’ll never stop watching you, Aggie. I promise” demonstrates this, and foreshadows the secret that Aganetha will struggle with for the rest of her life.
There are feminist themes throughout, with Aggie’s progressive mother, women in the workplace and of course, in sports, and we also encounter abortion, pre-marital sex and murder.
Aggie has a distinctive voice, and Snyder has a natural flair for writing, especially when it comes to portaying what her characters are feeling. She crafted a picture of running I had never considered before, as something almost elegant and as natural and vital for Aggie as breathing.
“I feel as transparent as a glass, open as wound.”
“You do not want to finish a race and know you could have given more. You want to pour everything out. You want to be emptied.”
Girl Runner, rich with evocative writing, history, strong female characters and authentic relationships, will keep you on your toes and running until the very end.