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Recommended Reading: WHAT MADE MADDY RUN

Sports writer Kate Fagan’s 2017 nonfiction book, “What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen” should be required reading for anyone working with students in middle- and upper-class America. Whether you’re a school counselor at a competitive public high school or a private high school, this book examines the achievement-oriented atmosphere your students are living in.


Much of young adulthood is presented as a ladder, each rung closer to success, or whatever our society has defined as success. Perhaps climbing the ladder is tiring, but it is not confusing. You are never left wondering if you’ve made the wrong choice, or expended energy in the wrong direction, because there is only the one rung above you. Get good grades. Get better at your sport. Take the SAT. Do volunteer work. Apply to colleges. Choose a college. But then you get to college, and suddenly you’re out of rungs and that ladder has turned into a massive tree with hundreds of sprawling limbs, and progress is no longer a thing you can easily measure, because there are now thousands of paths to millions of destinations. And none are linear.

-Page 73

If you know students who have trouble coping with uncertainty, read this book. If know students who feel overwhelmed by the pressure to do well in school, read this book. If you know students who stress about the need to look perfect on their social media feeds, read this book. If you worry about your students’ mental health, read this book.

This is not a happy read. The main subject of the book, Maddy Holleran, died by suicide while a freshman at an Ivy League school. On paper, Maddy seemed perfect; good grades, great at sports, lots of friends, and the opportunity to attend a world-class university. So what happened?

The answers are what Fagan so compassionately and thoroughly explores in the book.

Disclaimer: I had the pleasure of meeting Fagan at a writing conference in 2015. I find her to be a compelling voice in a field that sorely needs it. So I picked up her book when it came out partly because I like her work and partly because it seemed to intersect with my own. I couldn’t put it down. I cried several times while reading it, but more often I recognized traits and behaviors I’d seen in the hundreds of high school and college students I’ve known.

An annual survey of college freshman found that 30 percent reported feeling overwhelmed, with that number rising to 40.5 percent among women. This is the highest percentage recorded since the survey started in 1985, at which point the numbers were approximately half what they are now. One study found that an average high school student today likely deals with as much anxiety as did a psychiatric patient in the 1950s.

-Page 110

Our world is ever-changing, but at no time in history has technology changed it at the pace we see today. The world our students experience is much different than what we faced as adolescents. Yet they are still our own, still interpreting with the same genes and instincts we possessed. They are not beyond our understanding. So books like “What Made Maddy Run” can be unusually helpful. Arm yourself with some powerful insight, pass it on to parents, and wield it to guide your students. You can never be too prepared to counsel them.

Jen ParticaComment