The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published: Jan. 8th, 2013 by Dutton
New York Times bestselling author of Girl With a Pearl Earring Tracy Chevalier makes her first fictional foray into the American past in The Last Runaway, bringing to life the Underground Railroad and illuminating the principles, passions and realities that fueled this extraordinary freedom movement.
In New York Times bestselling author Tracy Chevalier’s newest historical saga, she introduces Honor Bright, a modest English Quaker who moves to Ohio in 1850, only to find herself alienated and alone in a strange land. Sick from the moment she leaves England, and fleeing personal disappointment, she is forced by family tragedy to rely on strangers in a harsh, unfamiliar landscape.
Nineteenth-century America is practical, precarious, and unsentimental, and scarred by the continuing injustice of slavery. In her new home Honor discovers that principles count for little, even within a religious community meant to be committed to human equality.
However, drawn into the clandestine activities of the Underground Railroad, a network helping runaway slaves escape to freedom, Honor befriends two surprising women who embody the remarkable power of defiance. Eventually she must decide if she too can act on what she believes in, whatever the personal costs.
A powerful journey brimming with color and drama, The Last Runaway is Tracy Chevalier’s vivid engagement with an iconic part of American history.
American history, especially that regarding slavery, is not always easy to read. It's hard to fathom, to wrap our minds around, the way human beings treat other human beings. Yes, it still happens, maybe not the slavery, but the horrible way some humans treat other humans. I don't care what color your skin is, what your religion is, where you come from, none of that. A human being is a human being and they all deserve to be treated equal. Now, as you can see reading about slavery certainly raises my feathers!
Now that I got that out of the way... This book is actually a very quietly powerful read. We don't see the slavery and other than a ruthless slave catcher we don't see much abuse or horrible things happening. Some things are relayed through stories, but mostly we see Honor's brief encounters with runaway slaves that pass by her farm. Other than that we are with Honor as she arrives at her new home in Ohio after coming from England with her sister. Her sister dies and Honor is on her own. She knows no one but manages to get along, though rarely feeling like she fits in. Honor is very quiet but we can see her big heart through her interactions with others and her letters home where she is more free to express herself. Honor is Quaker and at first I was concerned about that. That it would be too religious in tone. But it wasn't. I felt like the author did a good job of portraying the faith and creating a realistic character who acted and spoke correctly (as far as I know) and who believed, but yet thought a bit outside their religion as well. I guess who didn't 'blindly' believe. She believes in equality of all, and while all Quakers believe it, they also believe in following the law and avoiding trouble. This leads to her maybe rebelling just a bit cause she is unable to just ignore these people who need her. She's also stuck with this family who is not always so kind to her. They speak out at her and are rude, making her feel like an outsider in what is suppose to be her own home. This made me angry, that Honor did nothing and just let them be that way. But as she becomes more comfortable she starts to find her voice and her way and learns to stand on her own two feet (so to speak).
There's romance in the book but it's hard to explain, as it's done in a way that we know that it's there but it's very light. There's this person always there, off to the side but clearly present and it's hard to distinguish whether she has feelings for him, or hates him. While normally I would say that this is an annoying ploy, I quite liked it. I liked feeling uncertain, not sure if I should like this person or hate them. Because I felt very strong feelings toward both. I kind of wish we had gotten a bit more of him, that he had been more fleshed out for us, but us not knowing probably made him all the more interesting since we didn't quite know what to think of him.
This book is quiet and slow paced. I was surprised that I was not at all bored as it felt like so much of the time not much was happening. But for some reason I didn't care. I was very interested in the life and matters of Honor Bright, whether she was quilting or milking cows or writing letters home. I was obviously in need of a good dose of historical fiction and it most definitely made me feel incredibly lucky to live in the time I do.
I guess I would recommend this to those who enjoy historical fiction, especially American history. It's an adult book but all sex is pretty glossed over, though clearly implied. There's not really much that would be inappropriate to teen readers.
Disclosure: I received this book for review purposes. All opinions expressed are my own and I was not paid or influenced in any way.