Monday, April 13, 2015

Taking the Long Way Home Book Club Book Review: 4:09:43 Boston Through the Eyes of the Runners by Hal Higdon


"These were moments when their lives, or the lives of all people through the world, changed. December 7, 1941: when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. November 22, 1963; when Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated President John F. Kennedy. January 28, 1986: when the space shuttle Challenger carrying Teacher-in-Space Christa McAuliffe exploded. September 11, 2001: when planes crashed into the World Trade Center taking both towers down and killing 3,000 people". -from 4:09:43 Boston Through the Eyes of the Runners.
 Where were you on 4/15/2013 when the bombs went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon?

I was at work. I remember it clearly. It was the middle of the afternoon, and I had just finished seeing a patient and came out of a room, when my medical assistant told me that there was a story that a bomb went off at a marathon. It was a Monday in April, and I didn't know of any other marathons that day except Boston. I checked the internet and saw the breaking news. I was stunned and I finished my clinic in a daze.

As time passed and we learned more, the gravity of the situation continued to hit me. I couldn't help but personalize it. When I ran Chicago for the first time, in 2011, my family, including my husband and boys, my mom and one of my sisters and her family were all at mile 26, cheering me on. What if?

What if, indeed? For the next couple of days, my Facebook feed exploded with stories and updates. Several bloggers that I follow shared their take on the events. Some of them were at the race. I became almost obsessed with the story. And I've never run Boston.

In his book, 4:09:43 Boston Through the Eyes of the Runners, veteran marathoner, coach, and author Hal Higdon culls the stories of bloggers and Facebookers, and presents those stories to tell the story of the Boston Marathon bombings. He learned about the bombings while he was at his home in Indiana, and like so many of us, watched the story explode via social media.

And as one of the runners profiled in the book, Diane DeStefano, so poignantly puts it:
"the Boston Marathon is the Holy Grail of Running. Some people spend years trying to achieve their Boston Qualifying time. Then, once you qualify, you spend months training in cold weather, paying careful attention to do the specific workouts that will help you attack the tough miles the come towards the end of the marathon".

Amby Burfoot, crossing the iconic finish line in first place many years ago
Higdon features the stories of 75 runners throughout the book. In a chapter titled Diaspora, veteran marathoner Amby Burfoot shares his reaction. Burfoot has run Boston over 20 times, winning the race in 1968. At this Boston marathon, he was running to celebrate his 45th anniversary of the victory. Running in the 3rd wave of runners, he was stopped less than a mile from the finish. His first thought?
"Who's ruining my party?"
Then, like so many of the other runners who were stopped from finishing the race, he learned why the race was over, he started feeling guilty for having those thoughts.

Higdon calls the period of time immediately after the bombings the runners' "diaspora". Diaspora was a new word for me, and basically it means, "to scatter about". The word is used to describe a large migration of people from one place to another. When the runners were told the race was over, that is exactly what happened. They began wandering, with no place to go. No one knew what was going on, said Erica Greene, who was at mile 19 when the race was stopped.

2014! Boston is back!
For me, a runner who is considered "middle of the pack", the story of the bombings hit hard. The runners affected most by the bombing were the middle of the packers, and I couldn't help but think about "what if?". Janeen Bergstrom was at mile 25.85 when the bombs went off.
"Everyone would tell me later that I finished, because I was so close, but a marathon is 26.2 miles, not 25.85 miles."
and
"Everything you do is for that moment, the moment of stepping on the mat. But the lack of accomplishment and the emptiness I feel is compounded by guilt."
There's something about crossing that finish line. I'd feel mad, and guilty, and sad all at once. I would. Because that's how we runners roll.

Overall, Higdon does an excellent job sharing the runners' stories and coordinating them along a timeline of events. As a runner, I really enjoyed hearing the runners' perspective of the events as opposed to what I read in the news. This is a quick read, and one that will stay with you long after you finish the book. The runners' stories really made this book relatable to me. Every time I cross the starting line of a race now I am so grateful for our freedom and that we can continue to enjoy events like a race. Last year, as I joyfully ran the Chicago marathon, I scanned the crowds that lined the entire 26.2 miles of the route. There was so much goodwill and happiness everywhere I looked. For the life of me, I just don't understand the thoughts of those that want to harm us, simply because we want to enjoy ourselves.

As Amby Burfoot said:
"This was not just an attack against the Boston Marathon. It was an attack against the American public and our democratic use of the streets. We use our public roadways for annual parades, protest marches, presidential inaugurations, and yes, marathons. We cannot cover our eyes and ears and pretend violent acts do not threaten our great institutions. Our institutions did not become great by following a path of timidity and cowardice. We can only hope that the Boston Marathon, though pummeled, will rise again stronger than before. "

I believe that it has!

I also did some background reading after I finished Higdon's book, reading Long Mile Home by Scott Helman and Jenna Russell. This book was less personal and more fact based than Higdon's and focused more on the actual events than the stories of the individual runners. But one of the statements that stood out to me as I read this interesting book was that in spite of the terror attacks on the race, interest and participation in running continues to grow; in fact road races are selling out at paces. Many of the bigger races have turned to a lottery system for entries. Clearly, people aren't going to let the threat of terrorism stop them from running.

One Fund at boston.com

After the bombings, the Boston Strong campaign was started as a way to raise money for the victims of the bombings. This effort raised millions of dollars, much of it through grassroots endeavors, such as selling t-shirts. I bought a few. It seems that even for non-runners, the attack on Americans, on Patriots Day, who were participating in a sporting event, struck a chord with everyone.

Jury selection. Artwork courtesy of Hal Higdon
In response to the questions I asked Hal Higdon, he also sent me a copy of an article he wrote for the Chicago Tribune, comparing the Tsarnaev brothers to Leopold and Loeb. Higdon was able to attend the jury selection for the trial of Dzhokhar Tsaranaev. And he states:
"Regardless of Judge O'Toole's instructions to prospective jurors about "presumed innocence," no one owning a "Boston Strong" T-shirt has any doubt about Tsarnaev's guilt. His capture was covered live: "Breaking News" on cable TV. Yet if the defense attorneys find even one jurist out of 12 willing to vote against the death penalty, they can match (Clarence )Darrow."
As I publish this blog post, the Boston jury found Dzhokhar Tsaranaev guilty on all 30 counts against him. The sentence has yet to be handed down. Here's what Hal had to say on his Facebook page after the verdict was announced:
"THE JURY HAS SPOKEN: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been found guilty of all 30 charges, 17 of which allow the death penalty. The trial now moves into its final sentencing phase during which the jurors, seven women and five men, must decide whether the convicted terrorist gets death or life in prison. That’s the tough call. We all knew going in that Tsarnaev was guilty. The defense attorneys admitted that on Day 1. Now those same attorneys will try to convince at least one of those 12 jurors to show mercy. Why? “His brother made him do it.” Sorry, I’m not buying. But could I vote death, meaning there will be endless appeals for the next dozen years all covered on CNN and the front page of the New York Times? Sure, many would like to see him hauled out into the Mojave desert and beheaded. That’s what ISIS calls justice. Eye for an eye. Do unto them what they unto us. But could you wield that sword and risk making Tsarnaev a martyr, sending him off to the terrorist version of Paradise? In this context, being forced to spend the rest of his life in prison seems the worst we could do for the man who brought so much sorrow into our lives." -Hal Higdon 
Stay tuned. And keep running.

Dzhokhar Tsarnev at the trial. Artwork courtesy of Hal Higdon
After the bombings, I read stories shared by some bloggers, and I've shared the links to those blogs below:

http://organicrunnermom.com/boston-marathon-emotional-healing
http://michellesa.typepad.com/chubsanddante/2013/04/boston-2013.html
http://devonintraining.blogspot.com/2013/04/the-most-difficult-finish-line-to.html
http://www.susanruns.com/2013/04/17/boston-2013-boston-is-for-runnersand-it-always-will-be/
http://blog.runkeeper.com/20/my-journey-to-the-boston-marathon/
https://jackandviv.wordpress.com/2013/04/17/race-report-boston-marathon-2013/
http://www.fairytalesandfitness.com/2013/04/finishing-boston-marathon-2013.html
http://devonintraining.blogspot.com/2013/05/dear-stranger-in-boston.html
http://anothermotherrunner.com/2015/04/14/undonebostonmarathon/

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What did you think? What story stood out to you the most? Where were you when you first heard about the bombings? How did you initially feel? Did the bombings change the way you feel about running road races? Is your preparation for a race any different than before? If you had the opportunity to run this iconic race, would you? Are you? Have you? Share your story! 

Be sure to link your review below! You know the rules...just link back to the original post. The badge is below. Be nice and read the other posts! Sharing is caring after all...and if you don't have a blog, just post your review in the comments. I'm really excited to hear what everyone has to say.



I chose next month's book in honor of Mother's Day. And who better to honor a running mom than the original badass mother runners, Dimity and Sarah! Their new book, Tales From Another Mother Runner is our book of the month for May. I'm hoping with fingers crossed that they'll answer questions, but if they can't, I understand. They're on a book tour after all...

Looking forward to another fun month of book clubbing! Thanks to everyone for your enthusiasm and participation.

65 comments :

  1. Such a sad day! This sounds like a great book to be able to read the stories of the runners would be great. I find it inspirational that some of the runners have gone back and keep running. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. I really enjoyed this book, and it makes me want to run this iconic race all the more!

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    2. That is exactly how I felt, Wendy. Hal Hidgon did an excellent job of relaying runners' excitement and passion before disaster struck.

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  2. I want to read this book and I want my sister to read it too. I remember this day so vividly, my sister was there running. The first bomb went off as she crossed the finish line. I was suppose to be at the end waiting for her. Thank goodness my plans ha changed. You can read our story on the blog and it was also published in a magazine last month. -M

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    1. Heading over to check it out! Thanks for sharing!

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  3. I"ve never run Boston and I most likely never will but that day and that race are iconic for all of us mortal runners as well. We are a great supportive community that always supports each other in bad times. I need to jump into your book club. I am reading the another mother book already. When is the publishing date for that book review?

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    1. That review and link up will go live on May 15. But you can jump in at any time! Dimity is going to answer questions too, so if you have anything you want to ask her, let me know!

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  4. I've never run Boston or a marathon for that matter. Sounds like a great book. Hope to read it someday.

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    1. It was really good, even if you're not a marathoner. Or a runner for that matter.

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  5. Indulging my passion for running, stories about the Boston Marathon, and knowing that I have many friends who have run that event, Tony gave me this book for my birthday this past November.
    A slim volume, I read it in a couple of nights.
    Anyone in the running community knows of Hal Hidgon, his running career, his training plans, his columns in "Runner's World." Higdon claims that this is the first book researched solely on the internet. How? After the 2013 bombing in Boston, he corresponded with facebook posters, bloggers, and e-mailers about the events that day as they experienced them. Using a seamless blend of their words and his, Higdon tells the story as it unfolded, one town at a time, from Hopkington on to Boylston Street.
    Though his own writing is somewhat less than stellar, Higdon's gift is his passion and love for the sport and its community, and that comes through strongly. He ably portrays the excitement and thrill that runners experience, the amazing support and cheering of the crowds, making the reader want to experience his or her own Boston Marathon.
    Many of the bloggers write incredibly well of their heartfelt emotions of the day. I could not help but think of two of my own friends who ran that marathon, one close to home, the other a long-distance friend whom I have not met.
    I searched frantically on the internet for news of Michelle, the nearby friend, who was running Boston that day. Thankfully, she is a fast runner and had cleared the area before the bombs went off. Nevertheless, it's emotional impact on her was staggering. Last year, though not 100% ready, she ran it again in honor of those lost. It was cathartic for her and she will be there again next year.

    Thank you for your thoughtful and wide-ranging review, Wendy. You are right, this is a book that will live in our hearts and souls long after reading. It's a volume to be read and cherished again and again. We won't forget. <3

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    1. Thank you for this awesome review! And for the blog posts--I included them in my review. I loved how Hal used the runners' stories to make the event come alive for all of us.

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    2. I noticed. I must get back and read them all.

      Can you add one more? A follow up from Devon of Cross Training. Please delete if not. I think you will find it compelling. I have it bookmarked so that I can read it from time to time. One of those stories that restores one's faith in people:

      http://devonintraining.blogspot.com/2013/05/dear-stranger-in-boston.html

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  6. I had not heard about this book. Your comprehensive review makes it very compelling indeed. Such an incredible story of bravery and sadness. So many emotions!

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    1. Even if you're not a marathoner, or a runner for that matter, this book is a great read. The stories really make it compelling.

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  7. i was at work and sat in my office in shock when i heard the news. your review is very thorough - thanks for sharing, wendy!

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    1. I'm excited for everyone running it this year. It will never be the same!

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  8. I was at work and first saw reports on Twitter and I wouldn't believe it until I heard it from a reputable news source. I was in shock that someone would do something so horrific at Boston. Boston. I read the Runner's World Boston issue, and I have trouble fully understanding horrific stories such as this, so I'm not sure if I'd ever be able to fully read and comprehend the book.

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    1. The book isn't hard to read. It's really moving, but not horrific. The other book I read, The Long Mile Home, was much more graphic. I had trouble sleeping after that one.

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  9. I"m not much of a runner but I do remember exactly where I was when I heard of Boston, standing in line at the post office dropping off tax returns for work! Crazy how you remember these things

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    1. Well, it was such a shocking event! Like all those other events, you just don't forget it.

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  10. I haven't heard of the book but I definitely will be checking it out! The bombing was truly a shocking event, I can't imagine having been there. I was at home with my family when I heard about it, truly unbelievable.

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    1. A lot of people commented that they were reluctant to read it, fearing it would be too sad. I didn't find it sad--some of the stories were sad, certainly, but I found it hopeful. So many wanted to go back and run again.

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  11. Great review. I'm in the process of packing to go to Boston this Wednesday to watch my husband run. It's so horrible that such a wonderful event will have this evilness attached to it for all time. The way people everywhere banned together in unity is really something and those are the stories I am grateful for. Thanks again for the review. I will probably read the book on the plane.

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    1. I think you'll find it inspirational! Have a great trip!

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  12. I was at work as well when this happened. Just terrible...I felt sick for days, and worried for friends I had running this race. I'll never qualify for Boston, so sadly no plans of ever running it. I see some running it with charity but I just couldn't run it without qualifying.
    If you are middle of the pack my friend, I must be dead last LOL!
    In all seriousness, this event truly was a reminder to me of the unity the running community has for each other. We all bonded together after event!

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    1. We sure did! I think the bombings showed everyone what a strong, supportive community the running world is.

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  13. A running book club is a GREAT idea! I will try to join in for next month. I've had my eye on that Mother Runner book, so this is a good excuse to get to it.

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  14. Such a sad day. Like you, I was a little obsessed with news about it. I had so many friends up there that day. While I never plan to run Boston, it's still such an iconic race.

    Can't wait to read Hal's book.

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    1. I'd love to run Boston, what can I say? The book only made me want it more.

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  15. I haven't gotten to read this book, but I would love to. I still remember that day so vividly, just like I do 9/11. I felt so violated, even though I probably will never BQ. It's just the holy grail for runners. I love your review, and I'd love to join up for the next review since i love AMR!

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    1. You never know Cecilia! I said that too, and I'm actually thinking I could BQ, if everything falls into place.

      Please join up any time!

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  16. I have a feeling I would be a crying mess reading that book. I read a Runners World issue last year about the one year anniversary and was crying like crazy.

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    1. Idk--I was moved by the stories but not to tears. It's a great read.

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  17. I was at school studying. When I heard about the bombs, I cried. I literally sat there and started bawling my eyes out for my fellow runners. I immediately texted my mentor to let him know how happy I was he didn't BQ that year because his time would have gotten him to the finish line when the bomb went off. I'm actually tearing up now. It's forever an emotional moment for me as Boston is SO important to a lot of us runners.

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    1. Boston is the iconic race. But this could have happened at any race. That's the scary part.

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  18. I will never forget that day. I was at work when I found out, and I had a doctor's appointment that afternoon. I remember sitting in the waiting room at the doctor's office watching the coverage and just sitting there in complete shock. I think the doctor and I spent more time talking about Boston than we did about the reason why I was seeing her.

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    1. It was pretty devastating! Even for non-runners.

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  19. I love the idea of a book club and will join for next month! Boston was a horrific event, and touches at those things we hold most dear and as "rights" as Americans. The ability to do what you like - run!, to use the streets for public activities, and to come together for our family and friends. I hate the idea that those were put at risk at Boston, and put us all on alert at other running events. It's been interesting to recently listen to the reports of the trial. Any considerations you might have on death penalty v/s no are presented in a completely different light when you think about terrorist attacks like this...

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    1. Isn't that the truth? I hate the idea of my tax dollars paying to house this guy. On the other hand, I'm not a death penalty kind of person, so it's really a dilemma for me. If nothing else, I want his sentence to send a message to other wannabes. Great commentary.

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  20. wow, this book sounds amazing. I lived in Boston for 13 years and it will always be my second home. My best friend lived near where they found the suspect. UGH! great idea with the book club!

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  21. this book looks amazing!! i need to check it out. thank you for sharing.

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  22. I will never forget that day either. I was sitting behind my laptop, just as I am now, tracking friends running. I remember one friend in particular posted pictures immediately after the first bomb, and I just started crying. I had the worst gut feeling that this was something a huge. A day no one in the running world will forget, that is for sure!

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  23. I have a stack of books waiting for summer break! and I'm dding this one. Great review!

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  24. Love your review! I hope to post mine tomorrow. Being from Boston, this whole tragedy still affects me and is very emotional. Even while reading the book, I can picture all of the spots and locations that people were discussing. It brought an extra level that I wasn't expecting. Although I don't think I will be very successful putting that all into words! :)

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  25. It was a terribly shocking day...thanks so much for this detailed review!! I think I'd enjoy reading this one, for sure.

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    1. It's a really good read, quick, and to me, very positive and inspiring.

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  26. So I read your book review right when you posted it, but am just now getting around to commenting. Your review is FANTASTIC!!! Love all the quotes and how you tied it into the current trials. I am still in awe at how you were able to interact with Hal Higdon, too. He is awesome! The collection of blog posts that you shared from others is exceptional, too. Thanks so much for hosting virtual running book club - I can't wait to hear the recaps from others as they start coming in, too!

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    1. I'm looking forward to that as well! Thanks for posting and linking!

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  27. It's scary to think about how something that should be uplifting and celebrated like running a marathon, was used as an excuse to cause such havoc. I'm not a runner, but it definitely gave me pause and made me think about places I go that could be similarly attacked. The gym, school, the grocery...

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    1. Seriously. I guess we can't feel safe anywhere. So sad!

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  28. Sounds like an interesting read. What a great review!

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  29. This is fantastic post! I was really touched to hear the stories later about those who lost limbs and struggled through months of recovery. Initially I remember feeling so awful for all the folks on the course who wouldn't get to finish with no clue of the chaos that was going on ahead of them. I am so sad for the families of those who lost their lives. I need to read the book.

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    1. The book was really inspiring. I think you'd enjoy it!

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  30. Thanks for linking all of those blog posts! As much as I enjoyed the book, it's also nice to be able to go out and look at the other stories. Thanks for hosting!

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    1. Loved your review! Thanks again for linking up!

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  31. I love the way you pulled different aspects of this story together. I didn't realize you hosted a runner's reading club. I look forward to reading the next review.

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    1. Feel free to jump in on the next one. It's a great, inspiring read!

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  32. The whole book was a major gut punch. It was beautifully and masterfully done. I was almost nauseous while reading, just because of the hard hit of all the different emotions throughout those hours.

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