As Fast As I Can by Penny Tangey
Published by Univeristy of Queensland Press
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This post is part of the Aus YA Bloggers Blog Tour and a copy of the book was provided by the publisher.
One girl. One dream. A few hurdles.
Ten-year-old Vivian is determined to win a medal at the Olympic Games one day. Problem is, she hasn’t found a sport she’s any good at yet. But everyone says if you work hard enough you can achieve anything, right? So when Vivian discovers she has a talent for cross country running, finally, her Olympic dream might actually come true.
But then a family illness is uncovered and all of Vivian’s plans begin to unravel. Can she keep her dream alive? Or will she be stopped in her tracks?
A funny, heartfelt novel about resilience, acceptance and dreaming big.
As Fast As I Can is a heartfelt Australian middle-grade story about a young girl’s dreams to become an Olympian and what happens when her family discovers a serious genetic illness. The story is very well written. Penny Tangey really hits the mark on young friendships, family dynamics, and the realities of primary school. While the audience is clearly middle readers, it’s enjoyable reading for any age.
Written in two parts, the story starts out with Vivian’s determination to discover her Olympic talent. She is absolutely certain that this will happen if she just tries hard enough. Part one of the book focuses on this quest while developing a strong sense of each character, both through current interactions and Vivian’s recollections of past events. It culminates in Vivian’s incredible success at cross country, while part two pulls all the subtle hints that were floating in the background into focus with the discovery of long QT syndrome in the family.
Vivian is an incredibly endearing character. I found her earnestness very appealing and she’s a sweet friend. One of my favourite scenes is when the girls make ‘I Run Like A Girl’ badges, in response to a boy using 'run like a girl' as an insult, handing them out to their classmates. The friendships are really genuine, and how they work through uncertainty and jealousies feels both relatable, and also demonstrates how friendships can survive with effort and generosity.
The family dynamics are realistic, and the relationship between Vivian and her brother Noah is spot on. I have two half-sisters who are the same ages as Vivian and Noah and found their interactions reminiscent of my own family dynamics.
The tone of the story, and particularly Vivian’s perspective, is perfect for this age group. Penny Tangey perfectly encapsulates the typical preteen experience of emerging from a black and white world into a more complex understanding and gently examines the confusion of kids in the face of adult inconsistencies. A scene that particularly struck me was the moment when Vivian is told she won’t be able to compete in the cross country, contradicting previous lessons from adults that if she just keeps trying she will succeed. Her fledgeling attempts to grapple with conflicting desires and opinions genuinely build the narrative of her growing up. Year 5 girls don’t usually have a monumental coming of age moments, but rather gradually walk the path of figuring things out. I also really enjoyed that the kids in the book had such a range of interests, and particularly that it showed young girls being obsessed with different sports.
Throughout the book, both Vivian and her dad express flawed (though very common) statements about food, weight and health. There are counterpoints to this, particularly through her mother, and Vivian and Noah's meaningful conversation about him quitting football near the end. Ultimately the story doesn’t feel like it is supporting these views. However, I did feel Vivian’s dad could have been more explicitly challenged on his views, given the damage caused by dressing up diet culture as concern for health.
A key part of the story is how Vivian’s own perception of her body and her health impacts her perceived value and self-worth. I would have liked that to connect a little more into her realisations about Noah and his body, although I know you can't cover everything in one book. I thought this thread of the story was a really good starting point for discussing the insidiousness of diet culture, particularly as it targets young kids before their brains are fully developed. If you have kids reading this book, I recommend digging into that conversation with them.
As Fast As I Can is definitely the sort of book that could lead to a lot of interesting discussions, whether at home or at school. It is a well-paced story, full of honesty and humour. The writing is clever and real, seriously exploring big life questions in a way that makes you smile. I'd particularly recommend to anyone with sports-mad kids, but there is enough in there for kids who are interesting in other activities.
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Penny Tangey writes humorous books for young people. Penny studied Arts/Science at Melbourne University majoring in Chemistry and Indonesian. While at university Penny performed stand-up comedy, including in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Penny now works as a researcher for television quiz shows Hard Quiz and The Chase, but is still terrible at trivia.
Penny's latest book As Fast As I Can, is her fourth book published by University of Queensland Press. Her three previous novels being; Loving Richard Feynman, Clara in Washington, and Stay Well Soon.