The Front Runner by Patricia Nell Warren
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I read this book on the recommendation of my brother, he says it is his favourite book and I can see why. The first thing I would say is don't read this if you want an easy read - though beautifully written, nothing about this book is easy. It is however heartbreaking.
This book reads so like an actual auto-biography I had to check that it was indeed fiction. Written from the first person perspective of Harlan Brown, it tells us of his uneasy acknowledgement and eventual acceptance of his sexuality in the late 50's to 70's.
Brought up as a man of strict religion and 'high moral code' this ex-marine has a hard time accepting that he is gay. The one passion in his life he is able to indulge is running, it is while he coaches track at college that he meets the love of his life Billy Sive.
This story is about the fight for human rights. Simply because he is gay Billy, a supremely talented athlete, and Harlan have to fight every step of the way to be able to compete at athletic meets and eventually the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. It is also about an athlete's personal fight to be able to give the best performance they can. And lastly, but most certainly not least, it is about love and fighting your own demons.
One of the things that struck me most when I read this is how,40 YEARS after this is set, some of the same issues are still occurring. In fact with the Russian winter Olympics around the corner and the current political stand of that country maybe it is time everybody read this book. Have no lessons been learnt in 4 decades? It is easy for me, in my safe, straight, white world to sit at home and write about this. I can cry as much as I like, I'm not the one made to suffer by small minded ignorance.
The fight that Harlan and Billy faced was made all the more poignant and difficult because they didn't want to fight. They wanted to love and run, it really wasn't asking for the world. I don't think they really even cared what people thought of them if only they were left alone. Aren't these rights we should all be allowed, whoever we are?
This book does not have a happy ending but I am not sorry I read it. Please everyone read this book.
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