Why has Jess gotten up early every morning in the summer?
In Chapter 1, one of the first things we learn about Jess is this: he has gotten up early every morning in the summer to practice running, so that he can be the fastest kid in his grade when school starts again.
He had gotten up early every day all summer to run. He figured if he worked at it - and Lord, had he worked-he could be the fastest runner in the fifth grade when school opened up. He had to be the fastest-not one of the fastest or next to the fastest, but the fastest. The very best.
Jess first waits until he hears his dad's truck start up, so he knows that his dad will be out of the way, and while his mom and sisters are still in bed, Jess dresses quickly and sneaks outside. Then he runs for all he's worth, pushing himself hard to get faster and stronger.
Running is a big deal among the other kids at school; it's a way that the kids compete against each other and determine among themselves who's the strongest and who's the best. Because Jess has never been a fantastic student or an excellent athlete in other sports, either, and because he's most interested in sitting quietly and drawing alone, he feels a need to excel in the races at school so that he can make a name for himself and improve his reputation. During the previous school year, Jess had won a race against some other kids and had a taste of the glory and admiration from others that this victory provided. He wants more of it!