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Run J Run by Su Sokol

Reviewed by LisaRose Alderson

One could describe Su Sokol's newest novel as follows:

"Run J Run tells of the descent into despair that can occur when a recent event, in this case the disturbing death of a student, triggers a deep-seated trauma, and the lengths that people will go to help someone they love, even if they are also traumatized. J not only has to deal with Zak’s destabilization but also his doubts, jealousies and fears. Once he and Zak establish a relationship, J then has to deal with his feelings about Annie."

But while accurate, this description does no justice whatsoever to the gravity of this book. The story is more than a romance novel.

From the start of the book, an interplay of love and jealousy is apparent, but who is in love and who is jealous of what is harder to determine. The tumultuous relationship between J and Zak is the backbone of the story, but there are multitudinous story threads woven well into a blanket of real life and real-life issues. Sokol takes many themes that could be and, in some cases should be, disturbing, and weaves them deftly into a story that transcends the themes themselves to a place that is satisfying without being mawkish or saccharine.

Run J Run is a smorgasbord of today’s hot-point topics. It treats themes of self-harm, abuse, sexuality, racial bias and mental health with a firm, sometimes humorous, but absolutely competent and fair hand.

The book is a terrific read. It requires a certain amount of discomfort to expand your worldview. Run J Run is a deeply moving and occasionally disturbing novel that moves you just out of the edge of your comfort zone enough to grow, but without disturbing your equilibrium so much that you become despairing; comfortably uncomfortable.

Not a book for everyone, given the themes, but it's a must-read if you want meaning and hope in what you consume. This is not exactly a beach holiday novel, yet despite the dark themes it is eminently readable. I reviewed this book by request. When I started reading it was with some trepidation, the synopsis "red flags" and the authors own warning that the book contains graphic scenes, and yet I read the book in one sitting.

The relationships are believable, from the initial inception of lust, through to the transmutation into something more meaningful, it’s unnervingly familiar to anyone who has been in a relationship. When the author is questioning what the relationship means to all involved, particularly when outside influences unbalance one of the main participants, and looks at how far people can go outside of their comfort zone to meet a partner, that is when the work shines.

The story drove me from wanting the comfort stage of the relationship to materialize to needing to know that it could survive the deep issues that both J and Zak are dealing with, and finally satisfaction in the resolution of the path forward. In this review, I use the words uncomfortable, unnerving and disturbing, because Run J Run is all that. But it’s so much more.

The story is paced well, and the characters relatable; you can like them for all their flaws, you feel what they feel, and there are places where that can feel heartbreaking. But there are also moments of joy and happiness. The emotional rollercoaster ride is handled deftly, in particular, the children's age informed understanding of their place in the relationship is entertaining, yet the impact Zak's declining mental health has on them is observant and poignant. The personal growth throughout the story is also apparent, not only for J and Zak but for some of the minor characters too as their misunderstandings and long-held beliefs are challenged and broken down.

For anyone in a liberally minded book club, this would be a wonderful book of the month. A string of questions is carefully placed leaving plenty of room for discussions of all kinds. And, regardless of the type of ending you like, the ending is perfectly done, it leaves you wanting exactly the right amount of more. Five out of five for this one.

Run J Run is published by Renaissance Press.

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