Monday, March 29, 2021

Review: When I Ran Away by Ilona Bannister


Title: When I Ran Away
Author: Ilona Bannister
Published: March 2021, Doubleday Books
Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
Source: Publisher via Author

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, perfect for fans of Gail Honeyman and Ann Napolitano.

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.


My thoughts:  While I don't search for emotional reads, when I find one that hits on so many levels, I just know it will be one that stays with me. This book has all the feels wrapped up in one story and I couldn't have loved it more.

While I don't necessarily search for books that touch upon 9/11, this one does so in such an honest yet truly raw way, but that doesn't remain the focus of this book. What ultimately is the focus is how we come to deal with grief and how we learn to love others when we don't always love ourselves and when that love that we have for others is continually pushed to the limits.

I loved how the book was structured, moving back and forth in time so that we had a full picture of what pushed Gigi to the edge. I may not have kids, but there are times I have certainly felt at my wits end and have just wanted to be recognized for all that I do...I get it! But it's so much more than just the little things. There are deep-rooted issues here and it is so expertly explored in this novel.

This may be a fun, flippant book at times, with mention of The Housewives of wherever (so not my thing!), which was great to lighten the mood, but it was also such a deep dive into how we internalize grief, how we put such pressure on ourselves as women to be the best at whatever it is we are doing - whether it be our role as a mother, a wife, our profession, or any combination of the three. 

I loved reading this book. I loved the characters and I loved the emotional journey it took me on. This book is one that will stay with me for quite some time and I cannot recommend it enough. It's both thought-provoking and inspiring. And I definitely cannot wait to see what comes next from this talented author...for a debut novel, Ilona Bannister certainly knocked it out of the park with this one! 


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