Running Barefoot: By Amy Harmon

Blurb:When Josie Jensen, an awkward 13-year-old musical prodigy crashes headlong into new-comer Samuel Yazzie, an 18-year-old Navajo boy full of anger and confusion, an unlikely friendship blooms. Josie teaches Samuel about words, music and friendship, and along the way finds a kindred spirit. Upon graduation, Samuel abandons the sleepy, small town in search of a future and a life, leaving his young friend behind. Many years go by and Samuel returns, finding Josie in need of the very things she offered him years before. Their roles reversed, Samuel teaches Josie about life, love, and letting go. Deeply romantic and poignant, Running Barefoot is the story of a small town girl and a Native American boy, the ties that bind them to their homes and families, and the love that gives them wings.

 

Running Barefoot is an amalgamation of all my favorite romantic themes in books. Slow burn romance with a clear promise on the endgame? Check. Second chance at a relationship when the characters are more equipped to deal with it? Check. Hard working, sensible, loyal main characters? Check. Uncontrollable crying while reading? Check. Meaningful classic romance book references? Check. I mean their conversation started with that love letter from Persuasion that is the be all and end all of literary love letters for me.

A book I couldn’t put away? Check.

 

I went into Running Barefoot with zero expectations, without reading the summary. I can’t say what made me pick this one up. But I am so glad I did. It was an experience in technical brilliance and emotional character building. Amy Harmon is synonymous with tear jerkers for me and I don’t pick up her books if I am not feeling up to the emotional investment such books demand. So I did a personal experiment and decided to read it in a different way than I read most romances. I did not picture myself as the MC. I did not try to put myself in her shoes. I did not superimpose my perfect man onto the male love interest. I immersed myself into the story as it built, without skimming in any way. And surprise surprise, it struck so close to my own heart that I gasped in joy at the lovely irony. Such new insight into things when the one teaching was a thirteen year old book character and the one learning with rapt attention, me, a thirty six years old somewhat jaded woman. And I am happy to note that after a night of crying my eyes out while I read and finished Running Barefoot, I have now found a better way of reading romances, ugly crying and all…

 

Progression was slow and patient. And I got it when I reached the middle that that was the perfect pace for this story because both the main characters were similarly patient and cerebral people who liked to take their time with the things that really counted. The many anecdotes from Native American to Christian, music references, book references, was a brilliant way to move their love story forward, because that was how Amy Harmon defeated the mundane and gave Josie and Samuel’s relationship an otherworldly solemnity and larger than life character.

It was heartwarming when Josie’s dad gave her the facts of life towards the end. He got Josie to realize that she might be older and wiser than her years, her dad a simple man of not many words and deep sorrows, and yet the older man could teach her a fact or two about actually living life, things she had completely missed. It was very similar to the parting scene with Samuel’s grandmother; simple words with a deep meaning and a profound impact. And don’t we all need that kind of reality check from our parents and grandparents from time to time? 

I couldn’t help notice the ode to Jane Austen’s Persuasion, one of my favorite books. Older than her years heroine who always puts the needs of her family above her’s, sacrificing as much as her love away. Outsider hero, the love of the heroine’s life, who needs to leave her sphere to find his place in the world. A second chance at a future. A sweet reunion.

I would have loved to see a reunion scene for Josie and Samuel. Josie went the distance mentally, accepted that she needed to leave the familiar and open herself to explore the unknown, but she hadn’t reached out to Samuel before the book ended, or made efforts to contact any schools to restart her musical education. It was all well rounded for Samuel but Josie was more in her head than in the real when the story ended. 

I wanted an epilogue. I actually checked my book download to see if it hadn’t been missed the first time, but nope, no luck. Its alright if there wasn’t any though. We knew without doubt that Josie was at a point where she would reach out to Samuel. Amy Harmon ended the story with the culmination of Josie’s character arc, without needing to get her immediately and physically with the love of her life in form of some grandiose ending. I can respect the author’s vision even if the greedy romantic in me was left crying out for such a scene. There was no fanfic either. Sob. 

Tropes that I usually dislike but somehow worked in this book – 

  • One of the tropes I usually shake my head at is race making a hero or heroine an outsider in a community, subsequently turning them into a rebellious devil of a bad boy/girl. It is usually accompanied with careless or snide remarks from schoolmates or towns people , gossip and derogatory nicknames that makes this character even more of a sore thumb that sticks out. Amy Harmon however handled Samuel being half Native American very well. It was alluded to that people were mean to him. There was his struggle with his Native American mother. But all in all, nothing was too much of a downer or geared towards generating pity or outrage in the reader. Samuel’s growth was more towards self acceptance than fighting with school or life bullies. It went seamlessly with his choice of career, his stance on things and his inherent beliefs. The cultural anecdotes didn’t hurt. Through the lively discussion between Josie and Samuel on Wuthering Heights, it was well established that it was a person’s choices rather than the color of skin or eyes that made or broke a life.
  • Trope two, a young adult without adult supervision who is doing whatever they hell he or she wants because the family is missing from the narrative that much. However in Running Barefoot, Amy Harmon obviously gave more word count to things that counted rather than the usual drudgeries. So, more words for Josie’s music lessons and thus more page time with her teacher. More scenes with Samuel in the school bus because those were where their friendship was built. There was more interaction between Josie and her family later in the book than there was in the first half. And then again it was because second half was where Josie kept a firm hand on reality and tried not getting lost in her headspace. Makes sense.
  • Trope three, death of an intermediate love interest. I won’t go into details here because that would be spoilers but I hate when authors do this so that they can redirect attention to the main couple in the story. It can be construed that this was a right of passage but I still don’t like this way of resolving things. Also, it usually makes me cry because it makes the MCs miserable. However, the author is the captain here and can steer the ship whichever way they chose. To be fare, Amy Harmon did some foreshadowing about two losses in the beginning of the book. I appreciate how everything was handled but I ugly cried again, just like I’d been ugly crying all night. 

Final Verdict – I really liked Running Barefoot. Give it a go if you want to read something heartfelt, slow burning and sweet ending with solid characters.

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