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