Friday, June 9, 2017

The Runaway by Claire Wong, 2017

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Shortly before her eighteenth birthday, Rhiannon Morgan runs away from the remote Welsh village of Llandymna. Camping out in Dyrys Woods, she starts to make a new life for herself. In the woods she finds space for her active imagination--weaving together the stories she loves and memories of her past, including the mother she lost thirteen years ago.

Back in the village, Rhiannon's disappearance triggers a series of events that uncover the cracks in Llandymna's quiet surface. Relationships become frayed as a young police officer is forced to investigate his neighbors, and the village's elderly storyteller hints at a secret that the older generation has kept for decades. But as painful as the village's past may be, it may hold the key for hope in the present...

Claire Wong's strong debut explores how human relationships develop, how we change as we interact with one another, and the role of folktales and mythology in small communities.

(302 pages)

When I agreed to participate in the blog tour for The RunawayI didn't really know that much about it. I thought it would be kind of interesting, with its story of a girl who ran away from home and of secrets in the village, and that the "surviving in the woods" storyline would be Hatchet-style thrilling while the village stuff would be kind of contrived and ridiculously dramatic.

It turned out completely different from how I was envisioning it. For one thing, the story is way more complex and intriguing than I expected it to be. Rhiannon turns out to not have as big a part to play in the story as we're drawn to believe, as most of the action during the middle of the book takes place in the village rather than in the forest, but it was still interesting to see the way she grows up over the course of the book. She's pretty much a self-centered jerk at the beginning of the book, believing herself to be so much better than everyone else in the village because she's "not a hypocrite" and is good in school, but as time goes on she begins to gain perspective on everything as she carves a life for herself in Dyrys Woods. Switching away from Rhiannon, though, I liked learning more about the motivations of her perfectionistic aunt/guardian who copes with tragedy by micro-managing everyone in the village. There's much more beneath Diana's surface than what first meets the eye. I also liked reading about Tom the policeman and Nia the rather oppressed farm-wife and Maebh the old woman who knows everything that has ever happened in the town. My favorite characters were probably Maebh and the sibling pair who came into the village a little ways into the book.

The book is called The Runaway for a reason, and it goes much deeper than just Rhiannon's last-minute decision to leave her aunt's home for the woods. Over the course of the book, we read about two more people who run away to Dyrys, each for their own unhappy reasons. The focus of the book is truly the village, not the woods, because we begin to discover the rotten reasons villagers are driven to run away from their homes and into the woods. You know how some books aren't necessarily super violent, but they still manage to drive home the complexities and occasional horrors of human nature? The Runaway is most definitely one of those books. I can't dive too much into that because of spoilers, but it is in every sense of the word a people-driven novel.

The Runaway was not quite the fluffy quick read I went in expecting, but I loved it even more for that. It's a fascinating exploration of human nature and the community in a small town, and I really, really liked it. I don't usually keep ahold of books I get for review, but I'll definitely hold off on passing this one along because I know I'll want to revisit it sometime down the line. And since this was just Wong's debut (and one of the most impressive debuts I've read in a long time), I'll be keeping a hopeful eye out for many more books by her in the future!


Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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