When I Ran Away by Ilona Bannister came on my radar after listening to an episode of the BookTalk, Etc. podcast. (Side note: BookTalk, Etc. is a new podcast featuring two of my favorite bookstagrammers: Tina @tbretc and Rene @itsbooktalk. It is a conversational podcast about the books they are reading and looking forward to. I highly recommend you check it out, as they are an absolute joy to listen to. Listen wherever you stream your podcasts.)
A book that spans time and covers themes like motherhood is one that instantly appeals to me, so I was immediately intrigued. What I found was that When I Ran Away felt like listening to that friend who tells it like it is, good, bad, and ugly, and holds nothing back when it comes to opening up about the dark side of motherhood and the impact of loss.
Gigi and Harry officially meet during the chaos of 9/11. They experience a traumatic and impactful day together. They do not see each other for almost a decade, until their paths cross again in NYC. Their love story ensues and takes them across the pond to London, where Gigi grabbles with motherhood, the tragic loss of her brother during 9/11, and all the pressures that are put on new moms. When I Ran Away is a debut novel about loss, grief, motherhood, and how far love can push us to our limits.
This book is raw and I felt all of it. My nerves felt exposed, but it was also strangely comforting knowing that, as a mother myself, many of the things I experienced during new motherhood is felt by others. Gigi is like that dear friend who will always keep it real with you, almost to a fault, and you love her for that. Her life is complex and took turns she never saw coming. The novel opens with Gigi leaving her London home with her motherhood responsibilities behind, finding a random hotel, and holing up. What mother hasn't at one point thought, or even attempted, to run away from their responsibilities??!! (I remember strapping my oldest in his stroller and walking aimlessly around my neighborhood for over an hour, wanting to go ANYWHERE that wasn't my house.) Kids push you to your outermost limits, but then add in the pressures of society, marriage obligations, and unresolved grief, and you have a perfect storm.
I thought When I Ran Away was a beautiful novel and I absolutely devoured it within days. The feelings of anger, sadness, inadequacy, and constant comparison to other mothers who seem to have a handle on their lives is a real thing that needs to be discussed. So much of what Gigi experienced, I did as well, and I felt SEEN. I love when I can connect with a book on this level.
Important to note: This book is one where if you are a mother, you will either feel extremely triggered or feel seen. I highly recommend you read the content/trigger warnings and possibly a few reviews so you know what you are getting yourself into. If I had read this book after my first child, I would have been highly triggered, but with time, space, and therapy, I am in a much better mental head space to read books with motherhood and postpartum themes.
Content warnings: death of loved one during 9/11, postpartum depression/anxiety, PTSD from medical procedure
4.5 - 5 stars
"Charlie looks up at me and I wish I had an answer for her other than all women do it alone. I don't know when it started but that's what everyone expects of us. Even other women who know how hard it is. Especially them."
"They don't know that birth and life and death are just chance. Who gets what has nothing to do with us."
"Her success amplifies my failure. Highlights my mediocrity. I don't begrudge her except that I do. I'm proud of her. I'm jealous of her. I'm in awe of her. I think she can't really be happy like this, and I think she must be so happy, she's really making it. I say to myself I guess she's alright with another woman raising her children and I say to myself why don't I have her drive? I want to succeed but I also want her success for myself, and if I can't have it, I want her to fail-fail at the mothering part at least, so she can feel as bad as I do. So that I can justify why I'm in the house and she's out in the world. We all make choices, I say. We all make choices, she says. Each of us defending our choice, knowing that there are no real choices for either of us. There's just what you do because you have to do something, because they all need you and they always come before you."
"This is the hardest time, I should say, but it won't last forever and we're going to make it. That's what I should say."
"I sit in the rocker and tell him that I've always loved him. It was buried very deep and I had to move every rock, one by one, and dig through mounds of pain with my bare hands. But I've found it now. It was always there. Even when I couldn't feel it."