Winning Ruby Heart
Winning Ruby Heart was pretty hard for me to resist. First of all, I like unusual characters, and it’s hard to top a disgraced Olympic runner – and the paraplegic sportscaster who exposed her – in the unusual department. Secondly, the heroine is a runner. I run recreationally, work with runners and ultra-runners, and am the mother of a competitive runner. Obviously, my interest level was high. Did Ruby Heart deliver? Yes, up to a point.
Ruby Heart has been hiding out for five years after her fall from grace. Winner of an Olympic gold in the 5000 meters, she was subsequently exposed as a blood doper by reporter Micah Blackwell – in an interview her father agreed to because he thought the disabled reporter was likely a pushover. Ruby was banned from all competition for five years, and banned from competition in any Olympic sport for her lifetime. Now twenty-nine, she’s been living with her parents and hiding from the world.
Micah catches sight of Ruby when he is at a 50K race that he’s covering as part of a feature he’s working on about ultra-running. Ruby has registered under another name and looks quite different from the red-lipped “America’s sweetheart” she used to be. Determined to find out what she’s up to, Micah has his photographer capture footage of her, and after the race, he weasels his way into her hotel room to pressure her for a new interview. After all, the return of Ruby Heart could be the story that gets him the anchor job he’s been gunning for.
Ruby initially wants no part of the interview and no part of the spotlight. However, she can’t deny her attraction to Micah. Questions around the interview and her return to running are coming at a time when she has really started thinking about her life, her independence, and her choices. She has been mostly training and spending her time volunteering at a dog shelter, running the energetic dogs who need the exercise. Seemingly all at once, she adopts a dalmatian named Dotty, moves into a home of her own, and agrees to be filmed as part of a new feature as she trains for a 100 mile race.
Of course, she falls in love with Micah and he with her. He is initially quite harsh with her, assuming she’s the spoiled, selfish girl she used to be. But talking to Ruby over a period of months, he establishes a rapport. He also recognizes that she is attracted to him and sees him as a person – not a disability.
The problem is that any sort of involvement with Ruby is a clear conflict of interest. Micah’s career is the most important part of his life, and he doesn’t know how a relationship with Ruby can possibly fit into that. Ruby, meanwhile, has her own issues. She’s still figuring out how to be independent from her parents and earn a living. She’s still redeeming herself from disgrace – at the hands of a man she’s falling in love with, no less. Oh, and she’s training for a 100 mile race.
This book starts with a great idea and works well in many ways. The conflict is engaging and realistic. It’s not one of those trumped up “oh, we can never be together because (insert silly, unbelievable reason here)”. Their relationship really is a conflict of interest. Beyond that, both characters have legitimate baggage to work through. Ruby has to come to terms with her past and her independence. Micah has to figure out whether he can forgive her, and whether he (and the country) should forgive her.
I also liked Ruby. She’s not pretending to need redemption and she doesn’t make excuses: She really did what she’s accused of. She made a huge, career-ending mistake. And she’s trying, belatedly, to figure out where she fits in the world. I liked Micah as well, though maybe not as much as I liked Ruby. At times I thought he was too hard on her, especially in the beginning and toward the very end. But I did like the romance between them, as well as the (somewhat necessarily) creative love scenes.
There were a couple of things I struggled with. In general, the flow of time seemed a little choppy, and transitions between scenes were occasionally very abrupt. I also felt like there was a little too much Ruby apologizing and not quite enough on the romance front. We get to see both of them thinking about the other’s body; they are both athletes (Micah is a wheelchair marathoner and was a Texas A&M quarterback before his injury), and they think like athletes. But I would like to have seen a little more of the tender, “falling in love” type of stuff.
And I could easily be alone here, but I really wanted to see more of the races. The 100 mile race is practically glossed over at the end, and I really wanted more details! I fully acknowledge, though, that not everyone is an obsessed cross country mom who spends too much time on running websites. For a more casual fan with the vague interest in running, the level of detail might be just right.
Still, I was excited to see a romance about a runner in the first place. I tried to think back to any that I’d read – not just with characters who enjoy running for exercise, but for whom running is a major part of their identity. The only one I could come up with was a teen romance (title long forgotten) that I read in the eighties with a competitive high school runner heroine who had a brother with down syndrome.
While Winning Ruby Heart wasn’t a perfect read, I did find it interesting, engaging, and best of all – different. If you’re looking for something out of the ordinary, I’d encourage you to give it a try, whether you love to run or only run when you’re being chased.