Run, Rose, Run: A Novel

Image of Run, Rose, Run: A Novel
Release Date: 
March 8, 2022
Little, Brown & Company
Reviewed by: 

For an engaging, fast-moving, and compassionate read, this book has all the right stuff.

First, a strong coming-of-age story, threaded through a rags-to-riches story revealing the dark side of stardom as well as the dark side of poverty and ignorance.

Underneath, a mystery: What violent, shameful past is Rose running from that keeps popping up like a nightmare, which she refuses to talk about no matter how it threatens the salvation offered by wonderful, generous people enabling her dreams to come true?

You have to wait long time for the answer to that question, so you can’t help turning pages, especially because there’s also a love story . . . which is so set up to fail, it’s hard to believe there could be a happy ending.

But because the lead characters are likable and sympathetic, you really want everything to come out all right for them—so you keep turning pages, hoping it does.

In the process, you learn a lot about pride and defenses, and how those get in the way when the days of needing them for survival are over. All the characters are haunted by their backstories, hints of which are dribbled out so you must keep turning pages to find out the truth.

You also learn about the dynamic between talent, compulsion, and drive—how these, too, can get in the way of success. And you gain insight into how “making it” while staying true to oneself is almost impossible to achieve in this day and age, especially in the music business.

It comes as no surprise why the story feels authentic and moves along like a country song once you consider the co-authors. Dolly Parton, queen of country music, knows a lot about tough beginnings and the price of fame; and James Patterson, major best-selling novelist, knows a lot about how to put words together at just the right pace to make them comprehensible and compelling. In combo, they make AnnieLee Keyes—formerly Rose McCord—into a complex and believable person, and her adventures and misadventures credible.

AnnieLee is in her twenties when she finally escapes a cruel, impoverished life and hits the road to find her future as a songwriter/singer. She’s been writing and playing music since early childhood and knows a brilliant talent lies within her. However, she knows little about how to get that talent out into the world, and understands even less about how that world works.

But her painful life has made her savvy and hard, so despite being a naïf she can take care of herself better than most people. She hitchhikes to Nashville, sleeping outdoors in hidden spaces, to start singing for her supper on the long road to freedom and acknowledgment as a musician.

By chance, her first gig comes at a honky-tonk bar owned by the retired superstar of country music, Ruthanna Ryder. One of Ruthanna’s session musicians, Ethan Blake, is present that night. Ethan knows natural-born genius when he hears it and brings AnnieLee to Ruthanna’s attention. After a feisty beginning, the diva takes the naïf under her wing and starts grooming her for stardom.

Unfortunately, AnnieLee’s past refuses to stay there. Evil people are on her tail, intent on both hurting her and dragging her back home for more. Now that she’s found her true home among people she loves, she has to keep running to protect them. She is so used to running, so used to being alone and in jeopardy, that it never crosses her mind someone might help her stand up to the threat and vanquish it once and for all.

From beginning to end, AnnieLee’s story is accompanied by song lyrics composed by Dolly Parton and gathered into a songbook at the back of the novel. There is also a companion album. Rumor has it there might be a film. These make Run, Rose, Run a multimedia experience for those so inclined. Yet each unit stands alone. The novel provides a solid keystone and works fine for readers happy to hear the music in their own heads.