Runaway Haley

An Imagined Family Saga

Fiction - Historical - Event/Era
378 Pages
Reviewed on 05/31/2021
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Author Biography

William Thomas' debut novel Runaway Haley is the winner of the 2021 John Esten Cooke Award for Southern Fiction.

Thomas became interested in genealogy in 2015. He had several source documents for Michael Haley and his children, but they only led to dead ends and left many unanswered questions. When he came across the letter that Monroe Smith sent to Ruby Haley Lott in 1958, William was compelled to write something to fill in the gaps of the amazing story.

After graduating from Ole Miss in 1987 and then the University of Mississippi School of Medicine in 1991, Dr. Thomas completed a career in the U. S. Air Force as an Internal Medicine Physician, Flight Surgeon and Commander.

He is married to Paula Ann Haley, a great-granddaughter of Robert Lee Haley. They live in Georgia and have two sons. This is his first novel.

    Book Review

Reviewed by K.C. Finn for Readers' Favorite

Runaway Haley: An Imagined Family Saga is a work of fiction in the historical drama genre. It is suitable for the general reading audience and was penned by author William A. Thomas Jr. Inspired by the historical census reports recording the journey of the Haley family in the 1800s, this book fills in the blanks between the census data with a fictionalized account of what two generations of the family experienced. From Michael Haley’s arrival and life of adventure to the stories of his orphaned children picking up the pieces after his death, the book tells the story of the Haley family through strife and heartbreak.

This book is a fascinating exercise in storytelling via filling in the blanks of existing historical information, and I’m excited to see this method used so skilfully by William A. Thomas Jr. The names and dates and spartan pieces of information that can be found in census data, marriage certificates and various local records never truly bring into focus the vivid lives that the people being recorded once lived. But that is precisely a gap in our understanding of the past that Runaway Haley seeks to fill. Using very robust and professionally researched historical knowledge of the times in which the Haley family lived, and through connecting the dots left by the available records, this novel brings the whole family to life and tells a gripping and inspiring story about a family of immigrants living through a turbulent time of much change in American history. I happily recommend this book to all readers.

Emily-Jane Hills Orford

Family stories weave a web of magic, mystery, and multiple unknowns. The Haley family, dating back to the mid-1800s, had an interesting saga beginning with Michael Haley who immigrated to the United States to make a better life for himself. Burdened with a baby after his wife died in childbirth, Michael has difficulty finding a job, so he abandons his infant, leaving her in a safe place where he hopes she will be cared for. This leads him back to find work on the plantation where his infant has been adopted and here he finds love again. But, the social-economic divide between himself, a laborer, and the daughter of the landowner means they must run away to make a life together. Burdened with threats of starvation, the Civil War, and disease, the couple carves out a life together that is full of both joys and sorrows. It’s a beginning of a family saga that will continue well into the twentieth century.

William A. Thomas Jr.’s novel, Runaway Haley: An Imagined Family Saga, is part memoir, part fiction. Taking the facts that he unveiled in his genealogical research, the author wove a probable tale of a family struggling to make a life in the years leading up to, during, and following the American Civil War. The plot is thickened with family correspondence, historical documents, and historical maps, as well as family photos. The author is a clever storyteller, who presents powerful prose, descriptive narrative, compelling dialogue, and a love story that binds it all together. Beautifully told; a story that will have the reader spellbound right to the very end.

Trudi LoPreto

Runaway Haley by William A. Thomas Jr. begins in 1958 with Ruby Haley receiving a letter that detailed information from her past. Michael Haley was an Irish immigrant who came to America looking for a better life. We have the privilege of following his progress from his arrival in America until his death many years later. We are taken back to 1847 and here the story begins. It takes place in DeSoto County, Mississippi, and many of the chapters begin with old maps of the area. Michael finds a family willing to take him in and he soon marries and his life story begins. He has children, fights in the Civil War, deals with the hardship of yellow fever and so much more good and bad over the years. When he dies, the story continues with his children, but the siblings soon become separated. They too endure hard times, dealing with life in the streets, an orphanage, cruelty, abuse, and hunger but with the hope of finding love and a better life.

Runaway Haley is a story that mixes fact and fiction and is based on a real-life family, real-time events, and the added imagination of the author telling the everyday life story of Michael Haley and his descendants. I was drawn into the story of Runaway Haley from the first page and easily felt their pains, their joys, and their sorrows. William A. Thomas, Jr. used the facts that his wife provided after researching her family and created a very believable and compelling existence for each one of them. As I read, each one became my friend and I rooted for them to find happiness. If you are a Civil War buff, enjoy family sagas, or just enjoy a good book, then Runaway Haley is a must-read for you.