(Short Stories for Students)

Gretchen P. Lewis
Gretchen is a newcomer to Hazel’s neighborhood. She has attracted Mary Louise and Rosie, once friends of Hazel, to be her friends instead. Gretchen and Hazel meet and size each other up, but do not come to open conflict, although Mary Louise tries to make fun of Raymond and is put down by Hazel instead. The smile that Gretchen and Hazel give each other on this occasion is ‘‘really not a smile’’ because ‘‘girls never really smile at each other.’’ On the day of the race, Gretchen competes well with Hazel and comes in second. Gretchen’s dedication to running and her abilities impress Hazel, and the two exchange real smiles of beginning friendship and respect.

Hazel Elizabeth Deborah Parker
The narrator and main character of the story, Hazel Parker describes herself as ‘‘a little girl with skinny arms,’’ whose voice had earned her the nickname ‘‘Squeaky.’’ She is known to be the fastest runner in her school. Contrasting her appearance, however, is the strength of her character. Hazel’s narration conveys to the reader a spirited self-assurance. She takes care of her mentally challenged brother, Raymond, with both pride and compassion. She is ready to use her fists or her sharp tongue if anyone has ‘‘anything to say about his big head.’’ Moreover, her striving to be an athlete conveys to the reader her determination to make something of herself. By the end of the story, Hazel is able...

(The entire section is 353 words.)

Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

From the beginning, Hazel strongly voices her identity as an athlete—"Miss Quicksilver herself"—and establishes her outspoken assertiveness: "no one can beat me and that's all there is to it." At the same time, the story shows that Hazel's identity has been and continues to be hard won. To become a good runner, she has had to practice relentlessly, sometimes carving time for herself out of the hours she spends looking after her mentally challenged brother, Raymond. Caring for her brother is no easy task either, and in some ways sets her apart from others. Her confrontation with Gretchen's "sidekicks" demonstrates her loyalty to her brother and her readiness to challenge those who would tease or belittle him. Although she scorns girls who dress up in white organdy for the May Pole dancing, it is also true that Hazel "can't afford to buy shoes and a new dress you wear only once in a lifetime."

Nevertheless, Hazel's belief in herself and her refusal to accept less than the respect she deserves is reflected throughout the story: in her willingness to strive to become an athlete despite the risk of failure or ridicule—"I'm serious about my running and I don't care who knows it"; in her. refusal to let anyone "get smart" with Raymond; in her insistence that Mr. Pearson address her by her full name instead of the nickname "Squeaky"; and, ultimately, in her success. The story suggests that a self-respecting identity, like the ability to run, involves persistence and dedication.

While the story dramatizes the importance of identity, it also reflects on a particular moment of growth and change for both Hazel and Raymond. As the title suggests, not only Hazel's but Raymond's run has implications for both characters. The title points not only to Raymond's own potential as an athlete, but also to Hazel's intuitive recognition of his possibilities, a recognition that redefines her. Up until that moment, which occurs, interestingly, while Hazel is in the process of fulfilling a goal, Hazel has led a somewhat lonely existence, despite her vivacious style and tone. Her closeness to her family is evident, both in her father's support for her running and in her mention of her mother, brother, and grandfather.


(The entire section is 916 words.)