“Running Out of Night” by Sharon Lovejoy is middle grade historical fiction about a girl growing up in rural Virginia in 1858. Her mother died giving birth to her, and her father and brothers are uncaring and cruel to her. So cruel that they never even give her a name — calling her “Girl.” Her grandfather (her mother’s father) is the only loving person she has contact with, and when he dies, she is alone with no one to care for her, and the abuse becomes even more intense.
When a runaway slave shows up, Girl decides to help her, and the slave opens her eyes to the abuse she is living with. She runs away with the slave. Zenobia, the slave, points out that even though she’s a slave, she has a name. Then Zenobia, noticing how Girl relates to the birds, names her Lark.
It’s the story of Lark and Zenobia’s escape and the story of Lark’s maturing. She begins to see what’s right and what’s wrong and she grows strong — in spirit and in temperament. She is determined to help her new friends, the escaped slaves, reach freedom. Whether she will reach freedom is questionable. Her father wants back his servant — Girl.
Lovejoy writes the story in first person narrative and uses the Virginia rural dialect. ‘”Don’t be scairt of me,” I said. “Are you needin of somethin?”‘ and “I weren’t used to talkin to anyone her color out here.” It takes a while to get used to the written dialect, but then the characters, the plot and the action take over, and the dialect seems like the new normal. The book is for middle grade readers, but it is also pretty explicit when it comes to description of how the runaway slaves were treated. Some of it is pretty intense. It’s quite a powerful look at the realities of slavery.
The novel is also about female empowerment and the innate goodness in some people — how some will risk everything to help others.
This book would be a great addition to a classroom library, especially considering its emphases on timeless and critical topics like discrimination and prejudice.
Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by Random House Books for Young Readers for review purposes.
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