The Jade Rabbit is a different kind of book from what you’ll usually see reviewed on Predawn Runner. While most of what I read these days is non-fiction, focused specifically on learning more about running (with the exception of John Parker’s works), this book intrigued me, as I’ve enjoyed the blog of its author, Mark Matthews. Since running features in this book, and it appeared to be a potentially quick and light read, I decided to grab a copy when he offered it for free on Amazon a few months ago. Given the purpose of this blog, I’ll review this more from a runner’s perspective, as to why you may be interested in reading it as well.
The better researched a work of fiction is, the more realistically it can be written. Better still if the author actually draws on his own experiences in writing the book. So, with Mark Matthews and The Jade Rabbit, we have a story about:
- A social worker (check – Mark is a social worker / behavioral therapist)…
- …living in Detroit (check – I believe Mark has spent his entire life in the greater Detroit area)…
- …adopted from China (check – Mark has adopted a daughter from China)…
- …who runs marathons… (check – Mark has run 13 marathons)…
- …and is a woman (umm, OK, but this story probably works better written from a woman’s perspective).
At its heart, The Jade Rabbit is a story about an individual’s struggle to find her identity. Janice Zhu Woodward (Jan) was abandoned by her birth mother in Guangzhou as an infant, and adopted by a suburban Detroit family to raise as their own. As a social worker with an inner-city clientele, and having married a man who crosses the divide in owning an inner city barbershop while living in the suburbs, her career and marriage mirror this identity struggle.
Jan’s tightest connection to her mother, who has passed on before this story, is through running. As a competitive marathoner (sub-3:00), Jan’s mother draws her into the sport (or perhaps Jan runs as a way to gain acceptance from her mother – though it’s clear throughout that her parents are as loving as any parents could possibly be), and perhaps it is through running in which Jan seeks a mean of learning about herself. She takes on the same sub-3:00 marathon challenge, and it is clear that, as for many runners, her passion also provides her time to think, to sort through the myriad thoughts that plague her mind as she faces the challenge of the day.
Running isn’t the main focus of the story – the consequences of Jan’s identity crisis on her career and ability to be a mother is. However, it is nonetheless central to the flow of the book. Beyond the aim to remember and continue to bond with her mother, both birth and adoptive through flashbacks real or imagined, each key transition during the book seems to come “on the run.” Jan is just returning from the run when she encounters a client, Hallie, in the parking lot of the shelter where Jan works, unleashing a chain of events that comes to dominate her career trajectory. And a marathon provides the climax to the story – which I won’t spoil by sharing any details. Finally, Jan’s running does help to inspire someone else to discover her identity and begin to take control of her life.
A good work of fiction shouldn’t purely serve as an escape – it should serve to inspire or teach us about ourselves. The Jade Rabbit is a good story and Mark manages to convey some important messages. My biggest takeaway was the reminder that life is not made to be dominated by any one element – be it career, family, or, heaven forbid, running. Our identity is more than the sum of the parts we play – it’s magnified by the interactions that occur between those roles. Our ability to know ourselves is compounded as we run and reflect, as we build our character through testing ourselves (and, when appropriate, holding back).
Disclosure: While Mark offers copies of his books for bloggers to review for free, I acquired my copy independently on Amazon and have received no compensation for this review, save for any commissions that come via the Amazon affiliate links used in this post.