Running Out of Night
By Sharon Lovejoy
Expected publication November 11, 2014 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Girl does not have a great life. She's never known a mother's love and her pa mistreats her. Things only get more complicated when Zenobia, a runaway slave, shows up at her doorstep. But Zenobia gives her the push she needs, and Girl joins her on her escape. Will they both find the freedom they desire?
I requested the e-galley of this because it's historical fiction and middle-grade. I thought it sounded interesting. Though I read quite a bit of historical fiction, I tend to focus on the same time periods again and again and the Civil War era is generally not one of them. As such, I'd not read a story quite like this.
Unfortunately, I'm not sure I really enjoyed this particular story. While I think there are some things that Lovejoy did well, other things just didn't work for me. Let's start with what I thought worked. Lovejoy has done a solid job creating a unique and believable narrator in Girl (who later becomes Lark). Though at first she is resigned to her fate, readers see her grow over the course of the novel and become a stronger girl, one who is not afraid to rise to a challenge and seek out a better life for herself. The dialect will likely be challenging to young readers but it adds to the authenticity of Lark's story. Unfortunately, though numerous other characters appear throughout the book, none are developed particularly well, not even Zenobia (with whom Lark spends quite a bit of time).
Another thing I think Lovely has done well is the setting - it feels historically accurate, though, as I said, I don't read a lot from this time period. I think it's both a strength and a weakness of this novel that the girls never actually make it out of the state they begin in - it lends more depth to the setting, but it also makes it feel like readers followed their journey without reaching a satisfactory conclusion.
But, what really didn't work for me was the plot. Perhaps I am getting too old for repetition, but this book felt tedious. It was a series of the girls running, then getting into trouble, then running, then getting into more trouble. Over and over again. I get that this might actually be accurate as to how difficult trying to escape the slave trade would have been, but it might for a less than enjoyable reading experience. In addition, it frequently felt like Lovejoy had Lark make a not-so-smart decision just so the trouble/escape pattern could repeat again. The longer this book went on, the more eye-rolling I did.
As I mentioned, the book ends with Zenobia and Lark still in Virginia. Because of all the backtracking and capturing and escaping they do, they never even make it out of the state. I can see this being a frustrating conclusion for readers - there is no real indication that they've actually escaped their fates (and, considering how it's gone so far, in all likelihood, they get captured again immediately after the book's ending).
Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.