What Made Maddy Run: A Book Review

Taking a Look at the Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen

Thomas O'Grady

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What Made Maddy Run by Kate Fagan is a powerful and poignant exploration of Madison Holleran’s life and untimely death. In this compelling book, Fagan takes a deep dive into the life of a young college athlete and exposes the underlying challenges and pressures faced by today’s youth, especially those transitioning into college and early adulthood. The fall is a great opportunity to revisit Maddy’s story and better understand the lessons that can be drawn from Maddy’s experience. Perhaps this review will help to better equip some parents in supporting their children’s emotional well-being during these crucial phases of life. This review further builds my thoughts on the book that was first discussed two years ago in this separate September 2021 review.

Fagan masterfully weaves together interviews with Maddy’s family, friends, and coaches, along with Maddy’s online presence through social media, to provide a comprehensive portrait of her life. Maddy, a talented and driven athlete, appeared to have it all on the surface — academic success, athletic achievements, and a vibrant social life. However, beneath the façade, she was battling a crippling inner turmoil, struggling to live up to societal expectations, and experiencing the dark side of the hyper-connected digital age. Each of the pillars that made Maddy successful created additional pressures to continue performing at a high level. This outer façade of calm and success masking an inner turmoil was called “Penn Face”. Everyone has probably heard some version of the term Penn Face before. It’s the name given to Penn’s culture of perfection, which pressures students to constantly “do more” with their time and appear put together academically and socially while hiding their insecurities.

The culture that creates Penn Face underscores one of the critical lessons from Maddy’s story, which is the impact of the performance-driven culture on the mental health of young adults. As a society, we often prioritize achievement and success above all else. This can lead many young individuals to feel inadequate when they don’t meet the unrealistic standards that they are striving for. Even more unfortunate is that this pressure can be even more…

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Thomas O'Grady

Thomas J. O’Grady, Ph.D., M.P.H. is a data minded professional who is an avid runner, hiker, and lover of the outdoors.