"The Last Runaway" by Tracy Chevalier
After her fiancé leaves her and the Quaker community for another woman, Honor Bright makes an impulsive decision to leave England behind and travel to America with her sister who is due to be married. But when she arrives in the new land, tragedy strikes and Honor finds herself all alone, forced to rely on the kindness of strangers.
Her new life is difficult and daunting, and very quickly she discovers that she is in the midst of a movement that will change the face of America. The town in Ohio that Honor has made her home is a stop on the Underground Railroad and Honor is quickly drawn into its activities. But her new family makes it clear to her that she should have no part in it. Honor is torn between the wishes of her new family and her Quaker principles that she holds so dear. Will she listen to her family, or will she follow her heart no matter what the costs?
The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier is a historical fiction novel that takes on an important part of American history and puts a face to the men and women who worked tirelessly to change the fabric of society.
There is so much to learn from this book. It was really interesting to learn more about the Quakers and their communities in the 19th century. Chevalier takes readers inside their homes, meetings, and hearts to give readers a full picture of their beliefs and how they made a home for themselves in America. I found all of this fascinating. I wish, however, I could say the same for the detail about the Underground Railroad.
When I picked up this book I thought it would focus mainly on this and other efforts to put an end to slavery. For me, it felt more like a backdrop to the story. It wasn't explained in depth and the runaway slaves served more as background characters to Honor's thoughts and actions. And Honor had very little to do with the activities of the Underground Railroad In this capacity, I was hoping for a lot more.
Chevalier is a skilled historical fiction novel writer, as evidenced here and in previous works such as Girl With a Pearl Earring. This book is well-researched, and this is shown especially in the discussion and depiction of quilting. I had no idea quilts were such an important part of Quaker culture nor did I realize you could write so much about quilting (it did become a little too much for me.) I was impressed at the way her writing painted such a beautiful picture of the surroundings and the time period for me as I read.
While I wasn't completely enamoured with the way the subject of the book was handled, there were some characters in here who I thought were wonderful, even if they aren't very likeable. Belle Mills, Honor's outspoken friend, is a firecracker and I enjoyed her part in the book. I liked the way the slave catcher Donovan's softer side showed through a bit when Honor was around. And I also came to like Honor's sister-in-law once she opened up to Honor.
For me, it the characters that made up for what I felt was lacking and kept me reading right to the end.