What would you do if your father was running for president, but going against everything you stood for?
In Running by Natalia Sylvester, Mariana Ruiz or Mari to her friends, is a Cuban American high schooler who finds herself at a crossroads with this same question. Her father, a US senator, is in the thick of primary season and concentrating on winning his home state of Florida. Florida is the key for him to snag the nomination to become the Republican pick for president.
At the start of the novel, Mariana was somewhat ignorant of her father’s position and political platform. In a way, she purposely kept herself in the dark where her father’s career was concerned. During a debate, her father makes a comment about immigration that goes viral because of its controversial and problematic nature. Mari is forced to begin to reckon with who her father is. She had always separated the two in her mind, but she soon discovers that and she learns about who her father truly is.
Mari befriends Jackie, a classmate and activist who encourages her to find her own voice and beliefs instead of following what she is told. Mari becomes her own leader and learns the importance of standing up for what you believe in — no matter the consequences.
I appreciated seeing Mari’s growth throughout this book and inner conflict with coming to terms with everything that her father is. Sylvester interjects scenes of Mari and her dad enjoying one and one time in nature, the one place were she felt he was always genuine with her. The illusion is shattered when she discovers that her father has voted for legislature that puts sewage water into the homes of her community. Her and her father’s common anchor had always been environmental issues, so when that is gone, she realizes she can’t stand quiet. Mari’s arc is a treat to read because we can see her development progress in a way that feels natural and authentic. Sylvester leans into Mari’s discomfort and challenges her to examine her own privileges and in the process created a really beautiful character arc.
Mari’s Abuelo is a scene stealer in whatever page he appears in, and he was a great relative that Mari could rely on that wasn’t her mom or her dad. Abuelo is larger than life and full of love. Gloria, the Ruiz’s housekeeper, and her girlfriend Amarys are a great support system that Mari can look up to as well. They are outsiders to the political bubble that her parents had been consumed by, and their steadiness allowed Mari to become more secure in her choices.
Timely and heartfelt, Running is a must read, especially during an election year.