When I Ran Away is an unforgettable first novel about love – for our partners, our children, our mothers, and ourselves – pushed to its outer limits.
A rich, bighearted debut that takes us from working-class Staten Island in the wake of the September 11th attacks to moneyed London a decade later, revealing a story of loss, motherhood, and love.
As the Twin Towers collapse, Gigi Stanislawski flees her office building and escapes lower Manhattan on the Staten Island Ferry. Among the crying, ash-covered, and shoeless passengers, Gigi, unbelievably, finds someone she recognizes–Harry Harrison, a British man and a regular at her favorite coffee shop. Gigi brings Harry to her parents’ house, where they watch the television replay the planes crashing for hours, and she waits for the phone call that will never come: the call from Frankie, her younger brother.
Ten years later, Gigi, now a single mother consumed with bills and unfulfilled ambitions, meets Harry, again by chance, and they fall deeply, headlong in love. But their move to London and their new baby–which Gigi hoped would finally release her from the past–leave her feeling isolated, raw, and alone with her grief. As Gigi comes face-to-face with the anguish of her brother’s death and her rage at the unspoken pain of motherhood, she must somehow find the light amid all the darkness. Startlingly honest and shot through with unexpected humor, When I Ran Away is an unforgettable first novel about love–for our partners, our children, our mothers, and ourselves–pushed to its outer limits.
When I Ran Away was a much different book than I expected from reading the synopsis. I thought the story would focus more on September 11th and its impact on the characters. Instead, this is a short portion of the book used to set up the meeting of the protagonist and a man that she will meet again in the future.
If someone were to ask me what When I Ran Away is about in one word, I would say “motherhood.” The plot really focuses on a woman who runs away from her family under the weight of grief, guilt, and the struggles of motherhood.
When I Ray Away is an emotional, thought-provoking story. Ilona Bannister builds complex characters who depict human nature and its complexities. She also crafts a very realistic and thoughtful portrait of postpartum depression. Through stunning writing, this book creates a raw, honest depiction of a woman who has lost all sense of herself and struggles find a way back. I pondered this book long after I finished it.
I did wish the plot was stronger. There was a clear narrative in the first half of the book as events occurred. However, the second half of the book was much more character-driven with few actual things happening. I prefer a book with both or one that leads more towards plot-driven. This is definitely a personal preference and did not ruin When I Was Away for me.
Overall, I enjoyed When I Ray Away. I think if you are a mother you will absolutely love this book and find it very relatable. I recognize that this is a great book, but it was not five stars simply because the focus on motherhood is not something that interests me. Regardless, I would highly recommend it, especially to parents.
When I Ran Away
March 4, 2021
Center for Fiction’s 2021 First Novel Prize Longlist
Note: I received gifted copy of this book from the publisher, Anchor Books. Regardless, I always provide a fair and honest review.