Madison Holleran, a promising young American athlete and student, died by suicide in January 2014. In What Made Maddy Run, Kate Fagan attempts to shed light on why a beautiful, bright and athletic girl seemingly with the world at her fingertips would ultimately take such tragic action.
Sport was a huge part of Madison’s life and her identity. She excelled at soccer and athletics. Her decision to focus on athletics and her anxiety about wanting to quit both played major roles in her unhappiness. Her whole identity was wrapped up in her classification as an athlete
Fagan does a lot of deep diving into possible factors leading to Madison’s suicide, from mental illness to the enormous amount of pressure that student athletes endure. Social media and the impact on users emotional development is suggested as a potential factor in Madison’s difficulties.
The book began life as a magazine article. When articles get extended into full length books they can often suffer from a feeling that some of the new material is filler. I recently read The Coddling of the American Mind about the need to expose kids like Madison to challenges suffers from the same problem of extending insightful shorter work into a longer from book.
At times the overly personal style can be grating as can the constant switching of names from Madison to Maddy and back. However, it’s clear that Fagan was deeply affected by this story and built a strong relationship with Madison’s family. Overall, the book works very well in giving the read a strong sense of who Madison was, the issues she dealt with and the impact she had on those around her.
The book ultimately isn’t about sport. It’s about the life of a young sportswoman ended tragically early and the lessons that we can learn from Madison. It’s a difficult read but an important book.