Skip to Main Content

About The Book

“This is one for the ages.” —Gayle Forman, author of the #1 bestseller If I Stay
“A book everyone should read right now.” —The New York Times Book Review
“A vital and heartbreaking story that brings together the #MeToo movement, the effects of gun violence, and the struggle of building oneself up again after crisis.” —Elle
“Equal parts heartbreaking and hopeful.” —BookPage

A Printz Honor Book

Each step on Annabelle’s 2,700 mile cross-country run brings her closer to facing a trauma from her past in National Book Award finalist Deb Caletti’s novel about the heart, all the ways it breaks, and its journey to healing. Because sometimes against our will, against all odds, we go forward.


Annabelle’s life wasn’t perfect, but it was full—full of friends, family, love. And a boy…whose attention Annabelle found flattering and unsettling all at once.

Until that attention intensified.


Annabelle is running. Running from the pain and the tragedy from the past year. With only Grandpa Ed and the journal she fills with words she can’t speak out loud, Annabelle runs from Seattle to Washington, DC, and toward a destination she doesn’t understand but is determined to reach. With every beat of her heart, every stride of her feet, Annabelle steps closer to healing—and the strength she discovers within herself to let love and hope back into her life.

Annabelle’s journey is the ultimate testament to the human heart, and how it goes on after being broken.

Reading Group Guide

A Reading Group Guide to

A Heart in a Body in the World

By Deb Caletti

About the Book

Sometimes, all you can do is run. That’s where Annabelle finds herself; she can’t tell you if she’s running away from the terrible tragedy that’s behind her, or toward what awaits at the end. All she can tell you is that she can no longer be the girl she was before. She can’t sleep in that girl’s bed. She can’t face that girl’s friends. She can’t live that girl’s life. All she can do is run, and so she does. All the way across the country. But something strange happens as she makes her solitary way through the American landscape. Her family and friends form a support team to make sure she has food and water and a place to sleep each night. Strangers hear about her run and offer their support, both monetary and in person by the sides of the streets as she runs through their towns. Her run inspires mobilization and activism. And Annabelle, left alone with her thoughts, begins to come to terms with the event that changed her life.

Discussion Questions

1. The author begins the book with a quote from Alfred Lansing’s Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage. What does this quote tell you about the story before you read? What significance does Lansing’s work end up having in the story?

2. What specific event causes Annabelle to start running? At this point in the story, do you understand why this affects her so strongly? Do you think Annabelle understands why she’s running? Why do you think the author takes her time in giving us the full picture of what happened to Annabelle?

3. How does Gina’s anxiety affect Annabelle? What does Annabelle worry about? How does she cope with her anxiety? Did worrying prevent bad things from happening to her? Can you relate to Annabelle and Gina? If so, how do you tackle your anxiety?

4. Annabelle “understands that when push comes to shove, literally or otherwise, that she must rely on other people being good and doing the right thing. And this . . . is a terrifying thing to rely on. It’s fine most of the time, but at others, it is a thin thread.” Why does she feel this way? Do you agree with her assessment? Have you ever felt like you were relying on others to be good?

5. In the Best Western hotel, on Annabelle’s first night away, “Malcolm’s and Annabelle’s eyes meet and have a conversation. In that split second, stuff is decided, a vow is made.” Which one of them is making a vow, and what is it? Why is Malcolm so supportive of Annabelle’s plan? What does Malcolm understand early on that Gina fails to? Why do you think that is? Consider their roles as brother and mother in your answer. How does Malcolm continue to show his support throughout the run?

6. The book states: “Every time she waited at a bus stop or was at a party with boys and alcohol or was just plain alone, she felt the high alert of vigilance. You could forget that some people don’t live this way. Part of the population rarely even thinks like this. They just walk around without fear and wait at bus stops and go to parties.” Have you or someone you know ever felt this way? What might contribute to this feeling? How might this feeling be changed?

7. Annabelle says of Olivia and Zach that “it’s the people who know you and love you that save you.” Do you think this is always true? In what ways can the people who love you save you? Who saves Annabelle?

8. What did her experience with Georgie Zacharro teach Annabelle? Did these interactions impact the way she dealt with The Taker?

9. Why does Annabelle cut her own hair off? What do you think the hair signifies to her? Do you think she is confronting her feelings by taking this action? Explain your answer. How does this new haircut change the way people interact with her?

10. How does Annabelle’s attitude toward food change during the course of her run? Why does this change come about? Discuss your relationship with food. When can food become more than just about sustenance? What are the conflicting messages that society sends young girls regarding their bodies, weight, and food?

11. Why do Gina and Grandpa Ed fight so much? What effect does their fighting have on Malcolm and Annabelle? Discuss the complexity often found in family dynamics and whether it’s easy to change them. Can family members say things to one another that no one else can? Explain your answer.

12. In her pack, Annabelle keeps a collection of things that give her “hope that she might one day have hope.” What does this mean? Why don’t these items give her hope directly? What do they symbolize? How much hope does she have by the end of the story? How important is hope for survival?

13. Why is it so difficult for Annabelle to accept the attention she gets for her run, including the donations, the support from the groups she meets on her route, and the interview requests? Is it more or less difficult for her to accept help from people she knows, like Olivia and Zach Oh? Think about her reasons for running, the guilt she carries. How would you feel about the attention if you were in Annabelle’s shoes? Does she understand how many people showing support share a degree of her experience? Discuss how Annabelle’s run makes her an unintentional activist at first, and then a more empowered one.

14. What is left when Annabelle gives up her guilt, anxiety, and blame? Why does anger come as such a shock to her? Has she ever felt or expressed this sort of rage before? What does she do with her anger? Why is showing or feeling anger often viewed negatively, as something to avoid? Can anger be a good thing?

15. After almost being hit by a Hostess truck, Annabelle yells a profanity at the driver. Think about the use of profanity in this context. What does the word represent to Annabelle? How do her actions in this moment affect her? How do you choose the words you use? Do you think it’s the words themselves or the tone that’s more important?

16. We learn very early on in the book that Annabelle suffers from PTSD. How does this manifest itself in her life? Do your feelings toward Annabelle change as you gradually learn about the event that causes her PTSD? What does she have in common with other PTSD sufferers? What did you know about PTSD before the book? Do you think PTSD can be misunderstood? Explain your answer.

17. Why does Annabelle start writing facts about the heart in her Moleskine notebook? What kinds of information does she collect? How does this activity help her come to terms with what she is feeling? What topics might you write about if you’re upset? Why can information be comforting?

18. Annabelle can’t bring herself to say the name of the boy who hurt her, instead calling him “The Taker.” Why is this name appropriate for him? What does the use of his real name at the end of the book signify? What has changed? What has Annabelle reclaimed?

19. Why is Annabelle so affected by the lightning storm while running? What about the deer that she sees die? What do these two events represent in her mind? What do you think could help her deal with the lingering effects of her past trauma?

20. Why does Annabelle feel like she should be punished for her part in the tragedy? Do you think she’s guilty of anything? How much of the blame should go toward societal expectations and representations of boys and girls and love? What kind of expectations do you have about relationships and love based on movies, TV shows, and advertisements you see? How do you evaluate the strength of a relationship? How do you show respect for someone?

21. What is it about Luke that allows Annabelle to trust him? How does he change his behavior as a reaction to what he knows about her? How is he different than The Taker? What impact does Luke and his grandmother’s presence have on Annabelle and her grandfather’s trek east? Compare and contrast both pairs’ attitudes toward life. How do Annabelle’s and Luke’s grandparents model what it means to have a caring relationship?

22. What do you think Annabelle’s next step(s) will be? What might be some of the long-term effects of her run? What kind of impact does it have on a larger community? How does it contribute to a larger conversation?

Extension Activities

1. Annabelle has always used running as a way to relieve stress, clear her mind, and center herself. Begin your own routine to alleviate the stresses in your life. Research methods for finding calm and introspection, like yoga or meditation. Spend a few hours doing your selected activity, and then write an essay using a journal-entry style that reflects on your experience. How did it make you feel? Will you continue to incorporate it into your life? How might it offer a healthy method for coping with life’s stresses?

2. This book touches on a lot of crucial topics, including gun control, mental health, sexism, sexual harassment, and the #MeToo movement. Choose one of these movements and make your voice heard. Write a letter to your local representative to share your view and concerns on one of these topics. What would you like them to be more aware of? What change is needed, and how would you like them to address it with legislation?

3. As Annabelle runs through various states, she notices the beauty in each of them. What landmarks and natural features make your state unique and beautiful? Choose one of these and write an article for a travel magazine about what it is and what makes it beautiful. Then write a personal essay as if you’re walking through the landmark on foot, explaining what you see as you see it. How does this shift in point of view and style change your perspective on the landmark? Think about how the landmark looks from afar and how it looks up close, and relate this to Annabelle’s experiences as she runs from Seattle and then must address her trauma when she arrives in DC. How does time or distance change the way we see things?

4. Luke makes a mix tape for Annabelle that speaks to her experience running across the country. Choose a major event in your life and create your own mix of music that explains or reflects the experience. If you shared the experience with another person, perhaps you could share your “mix tape” with them.

5. Think about society’s perceptions of female anger, and how angry women have been represented in books and movies like Thelma and Louise, Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give, and Thor: Ragnarok. Form a discussion group with four classmates; each member should choose a book or movie that deals with feminine rage, and then discuss their observations and feelings with the group.

Guide written by Cory Grimminck, Director of the Portland District Library in Michigan.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.

About The Author

Photograph © Susan Doupé

Deb Caletti is the award-winning and critically acclaimed author of over sixteen books for adults and young adults, including Honey, Baby, Sweetheart, a finalist for the National Book Award; A Heart in a Body in the World, a Michael L. Printz Honor Book; Girl, Unframed; and One Great Lie. Her books have also won the Josette Frank Award for Fiction, the Washington State Book Award, and numerous other state awards and honors, and she was a finalist for the PEN USA Award. She lives with her family in Seattle.

Why We Love It

Annabel’s story, like every girl’s story, matters…and her strength can make a difference. —Caitlin S., Associate Director of Marketing on A Heart in the Body of the World

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (September 18, 2018)
  • Length: 368 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781481415231
  • Grades: 9 and up
  • Ages: 14 - 99
  • Lexile ® HL680L The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®

Browse Related Books

Raves and Reviews

A guy in a parking lot leers at her, and Annabelle Agnelli takes off running. Eleven miles later, she stops, only to realize that running is exactly what she needs to do. Not just an impromptu, panic-stricken bolt, but an outlandishly extreme run that will take her from Seattle to Washington, D.C. It might help with her PTSD, and it might help her come to terms with her body. It will surely give her time to mourn the terrible losses of the previous year, and atone for the role she was never meant to play. This remarkable book traces Annabelle’s cross-country adventure while gradually peeling apart the events that led to the trauma she’s running from. Annabelle was on the rebound from a disrupted relationship when she befriends a socially awkward boy, now known only as “The Taker.” Annabelle couldn’t decide if he was weird or cute and tried not to encourage him, but looking back, she is tormented by her every smile and kindness. Through Annabelle, Caletti rips apart the contradictions of a society that commands women to be compliant and pleasing and then blames them for male responses to their attractiveness, however violent they might be. This timely, well-written novel is crucial reading in the days of #metoo. — Diane Colson

– Booklist *STARRED REVIEW*, June 1, 2018

Annabelle Agnelli runs from Seattle to Washington, D.C., in an attempt to outrun a traumatizing incident that occurred less than a year earlier. Eighteen-year-old Seattleite Annabelle is hardworking, pretty, and seemingly has it all: good grades, great friends, and a loving family. Following a tragedy, however, Annabelle is wracked with guilt over a crime she did not commit but feels responsible for, and as a result, she suffers from severe anxiety and PTSD. The only thing she feels she can do now is run. Joined by her Italian immigrant grandfather, Grandpa Ed, in his RV and cheered on by a self-appointed publicity team comprising her 13-year-old brother, Malcolm, and her friends Zach (indicated East Asian by his surname) and Olivia (presumed white), Annabelle runs across the nation in an attempt to come to terms with the event perpetrated by a person whom she dubs The Taker. Written in the present tense, Caletti's (What's Become of Her, 2017, etc.) narrative conveys a sense of urgency and immediacy as she presents issues familiar to many young women, including rape culture, violence, and the internalization of guilt and social critique. A timely novel with strong secondary characters that emphasizes the complexities of the heart and doing what is right. (Fiction. 14-adult)

– Kirkus STARRED REVIEW, 6/15/18

Seventeen-year-old Annabelle Agnelli needs to run away from tragedy. She starts in her hometown of Seattle with the intention to run 2,700 miles to Washington, D.C. As she crosses the vast and lonely terrain, she has flashbacks that gradually reveal what she is trying to flee. She runs to punish herself for the crime she thinks she has committed; she runs to feel the pain she thinks she deserves. Annabelle unwittingly becomes a spokesperson for a greater cause and a reluctant role model. Caletti tackles two big topics—gun violence and violence against women—with enormous skill. Annabelle’s story never seems forced or heavy-handed; Caletti realistically mines the gray areas of the teen’s conscience. Portrayals of complex, multifaceted secondary characters and vivid descriptions of the protagonist’s surroundings permeate this story and make it come to life. Readers can almost smell the pine trees, see the glimmering lake water, and feel the steamy heat rising off of the pavement as Annabelle runs across the country. They can also feel her confusion and pain, which makes her hard-won self-redemption most rewarding. ­VERDICT A moving novel centered on ­timely issues that deserves a place in all libraries serving young adults.–Melissa Kazan, Horace Mann School, NY

– School Library Journal, July 2018

“Masterful… This is one for the ages.” –Gayle Forman, New York Times bestselling author of If I Stay

“Caletti’s novel dazzlingly maps the mind-blowing ferocity and endurance of an athlete who uses her physical body to stake claim to the respect of the nation.” –E. Lockhart, New York Times bestselling author of Genuine Fraud and We Were Liars

“More than bittersweet… It will nestle inside your brain as well as your heart.” –Jodi Lynn Anderson, award-winning author of Midnight at the Electric

“Remarkable.” –Booklist, starred review

“A timely novel.” –Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“Powerful.” –Publishers Weekly, starred review

“A moving novel centered on timely issues.” –School Library Journal

It’s been nine months since an unnamed act of violence left runner Annabelle “broken and guilty and scared.” When an incident at a restaurant triggers bad memories for the high school senior, she takes off running, forming a plan to go 2,719 miles, from Seattle to Washington, D.C. In a powerful story of a survivor trying to regain a sense of justice and power, Caletti (Honey, Baby, Sweetheart) details a young woman’s harrowing psychological and physical journey across the United States. Thanks to support—written with tender detail, her younger brother and friends create a GoFundMe website, her grandfather trails her in his well-equipped RV, and a growing fan base cheers her on—Annabelle’s trek quickly evolves into a cause. What happened to Annabelle and why she feels compelled to run to the nation’s capital remain undefined until the book’s end, when a series of flashbacks playing in the heroine’s mind reveal clues as she battles exhaustion, dehydration, and pain during her 16-mile-a-day run. Caletti expresses familiar themes about what it can be like to live as a woman in U.S. society, constantly guarding against threat (“What are you supposed to do when you’re also required to be kind and helpful as well as vigilant?”). Annabelle’s determination to make a difference in spite of her fears sends an inspiring and empowering message.

– Publishers Weekly *STARRED REVIEW, July 30, 2018

Annabelle is running. It starts as a momentary impulse, when emotions over a recent trauma crash in on her as she waits in a fast-food line, but now she thinks it’s her purpose, and the former high school track athlete decides she’s going to run from her home in Seattle to Washington, D.C. Annabelle has the support of her staunch little brother and beloved hometown friends, and soon her retired grandfather trundles along in his RV to provide her with a backup vehicle, home-cooked meals, and Italian curses. As Annabelle runs, her past acquaintance with a boy she labels only as “The Taker” plays out in brief flashback scenes that spiral down into guilt and grief and that gradually accrue into a high-tension, dread-infused leadup to a catastrophic event. Caletti takes the familiar road-trip genre and changes it up for a story of foot-driven travel, infused with the pounding rhythm of Annabelle’s stride and involving intimate encounters with scenery and people all across the country. This is also a story of the dilemma of being young and female, of being inculcated with the message that it’s important to be nice and that you are responsible for the emotions of other people, and straining to find messages about your own wants or even safety to counterbalance. The book’s slow reveal of the harrowing tragedy is executed here with rare meaning as Annabelle herself, alone on the road, inches closer to the pain she’s attempting to survive. What makes this book particularly affecting is the overwhelming kindness of people, whether her intimates or strangers along the way, who cheer and help Annabelle along her journey. Annabelle exemplifies persisting nevertheless, with her running body and with her heart, and readers will understand her turmoil and cheer her resilience.

– BCCB *STARRED REVIEW, September 2018

"A moving, unfortunately timely, and gut-wrenching story that will stick with you."

– Bustle

"This is, quite simply, a book everyone should read right now."

– New York Times Book Review

Awards and Honors

  • ALA Michael L. Printz Award Honor Book
  • California Young Reader Medal Nominee
  • Lincoln Award: Illinois Teen Readers' Choice Master List
  • Thumbs Up! Award Top Ten Title (MI)
  • ALA Best Books For Young Adults
  • Chicago Public Library's Best of the Best
  • Nutmeg Book Award Nominee (CT)
  • NYPL Best Books for Teens
  • Gateway Readers Award Final Nominee (MO)
  • Iowa High School Book Award Nominee
  • YARP Award Nominee (SD)
  • TAYSHAS Reading List (TX)
  • Amelia Bloomer List
  • Bank Street Best Children's Book of the Year Selection Title
  • Amazing Audiobooks for YA
  • Evergreen High School Book Award List (WA)
  • Intermediate Sequoyah Book Award Master List (OK)
  • Just One More Page Recommendation List
  • Magnolia Book Award (MS)

Resources and Downloads

High Resolution Images

More books from this author: Deb Caletti