The Dark Side of Ivy League Sports

Review of What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen

Lindsay Duell, Staff Writer

** Trigger Warning: This book mentions suicide and other sensitive topics**

“But when Maddy began her long-awaited college career, her parents noticed something was different. Previously indefatigable, Maddy became withdrawn, and her thoughts centered on how she could change her life,” (Fagan).

Kate Fagan is a former ESPN reporter and NBA beat writer. After the tragic passing of Maddy Holleran, she put her journalistic skills to the test and wrote What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen. 

This is a nonfiction book about the life of Madison Holleran, a teen who was attending Penn State for track and cross country. The book documents the journey of Maddy as she battles mental illness until her unfortunate death by suicide. 

This book is an unforgettable read for people interested in the human mind and the effects that pressure can have on teenagers. Maddy’s story is interwoven with Fagan’s insight into her own struggles as a teenager to provide context and connection. Fagan highlights the struggles of mental health and the glorification of Ivy League schools and perfectionism through social media. I would give caution to those who struggle with thoughts of self-harm or suicide, as this book explores those topics extensively. Otherwise, What Made Maddy Run is a great tool for classrooms, or just those hoping to learn about modern mental illness. 

The writing style of this book is focused on paying respect to Maddy’s struggle and the family’s privacy. The pacing of the book is fast, because it accurately depicts how quickly Maddy fell into decline due to the stressors of this modern age of perfectionism and inhumanity.

“But then you get to college, and suddenly you’re out of rungs and that ladder has turned into a massive tree with hundreds of sprawling limbs, and progress is no longer a thing you can easily measure because there are now thousands of paths to millions of destinations. And none are linear,” (Fagan).

 What Made Maddy Run maintained a balance between factual evidence and personal anecdotes, whether Maddy’s story or personal experience from Fagan. 

I give this book 4½ out of 5 stars because Fagan describes the struggle of Maddy using factual statements, personal stories and analogies that are comprehensible. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in having a deeper look inside the Ivy Leagues, technology and mental health.