“What Made Maddy Run” Book Review by Lizzy

The book, What Made Maddy Run, tells the tragic tale of someone defeated by the stigma that surrounds depression and mental illness. It is a continuation of the ESPN feature, “Life Instagrammed,” and an extension of Kate Fagan’s article, “Split Image.”  

Madison Holleran was a track star student attending the (prestigious) University of Pennsylvania when she jumped off a parking garage and ended her life. She was beautiful, smart, athletic and had a ton of friends. According to the book, Madison kept much of her suicidal thoughts private. Before she ended her life, she stopped responding to her phone calls. Madison cleared the internet history on her computer browser to hide anything about suicide she had previously researched (SPOILER ALERT: BOOK DETAILS BELOW).

According to the book, there were signs of Madison’s inner demons. She frequently sent stress-filled texts to her family and friends debating whether she should quit track or not, driving herself crazy, facilitating conversation back and forth. She constantly worried about grades and thought she was failing. She frequently complained to those close about how much she hated Penn. Madison didn’t go out as much as she used to, but when she did, she drank a lot more. She had trouble sleeping and began to appear very pale and thin. She kept saying and repeating, “Something is wrong.” Madison spoke with her close friend Emma for hours about transferring out of Penn. When Emma and her mother tried to help her, Madison would just sigh, putting her head down in defeat. Emma’s mother almost asked Madison whether she was having suicidal thoughts, but decided not to because she didn’t want to upset Madison. 

At Penn, she almost joined the club Active Minds dedicated to mental health amongst Penn students, but was afraid to because she didn’t want to face the stigma attached to depression. At Penn, she tried to quit track, but ultimately was talked into giving it another shot by her coach. She was afraid to disappoint her parents, coach or teammates with any shortcomings. Madison put a ton of pressure on herself and was an extreme perfectionist.
What Made Maddy Run doesn’t give the reason(s) why Madison chose to take her life, but it does provide us with the circumstances (many) on why she might have. For me, the book ultimately feels like a guessing game. We do know that she was suffering from untreated mental illness, which is the leading risk factor for suicide, and can, in conjunction with other factors, lead someone to take their life. What Made Maddy Run causes concerns for me because it doesn’t depict the entire story, the real story.

I’d like to think a positive tribute to a victim of suicide would be written by a family member, not a reporter who didn’t even know Madison. A reporter who potentially could be using Madison’s story to exploit or make money off of her death.

Let me be clear about something. Someone else’s suicide isn’t your exciting book to write. It isn’t your Netflix movie or series. It is someone’s tragic grief and loss. A beautiful human being was once on this earth and now they are gone. Their family is left to mourn them forever. The path of a suicide survivor is unique because there is guilt accompanied with losing a loved one to suicide. There is heartache, pain and stress, both physically and mentally. 

More importantly, leaving the reader with reasons why she might have taken her life may give readers suffering from suicidal ideation the idea that suicide is the answer. If we tell the story of someone’s suicide, we must tell it in its entirety. We must tell the devastating aftermath it had on Madison’s family and friends, and caution others considering suicide to not go through with it. This should be a cautionary tale.

This book should have been written by a close family member. Suicide stories need to be cautionary tales detailing the aftermath of a suicide too. They shouldn’t be exploited or used for entertainment.