The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier

A quick rundown… Honor Bright leaves the Quaker community for a new life in England but events leave her lost and lonely in a new land.

Strengths: Interesting to learn more about the Underground Railroad and Quaker life.

Weaknesses: A little slow to start.

Why I read it: Received from The Reading Room – thank you!

Pages: 343

Published: 2012

Publisher: Harper Collins

Setting: Ohio, America

Rating: 8 out of 10

I have a work friend who likes to read and her taste is quite similar to mine. This is quite handy at lunch times when we both just want to escape and read. A friendly, companionable quiet reigns – usually. It turned out that we were both reading the same book, which was of course, The Last Runaway. We both enjoyed this rather quiet book that takes on major issues while providing an entertaining story.

Honor Bright is a Quaker, going from England to America in the 1850s after a broken engagement. She is accompanying her sister who is to marry a man who emigrated to America some years previously. Terribly sick on the ship, Honor resolves to herself to never return. Unfortunately things are complicated when her sister dies shortly after their arrival. Honor is left alone in Ohio, a completely foreign land to her. On her way to meet her sister’s fiancé, she encounters two people who will have a profound effect on her future. They are Belle, the local milliner, and Donovan, a slave hunter.

Slaves and slave hunting are completely foreign to Honor. As time goes by, she becomes more passionate about assisting former slaves to escape to Canada via the Underground Railroad. However, her actions get her in trouble from her new family and lead Honor to breaking point.

I wasn’t sure at first how much I was going to like this book – the Quaker characters speak somewhat differently (using ‘thee’ instead of ‘you’) and it took some getting used to. Honor seemed to be stuck in a kind of limbo for the first part of the book that meant not a lot was happening. However, as her assistance on the Underground Railroad increases, so does the action to the point where I wasn’t at all sure how the book was going to end!

I found the book very easy to read and also informative. Chevalier’s insights into Quaker life were interesting and the parts on quilting had me seriously considering whether to try it myself! I didn’t know much about the Underground Railroad either, but the book provided a good overview.

It took me a little while to warm to Honor’s character. She seems constrained by her religion and unsure of her own thoughts and opinions at first, but gradually becomes stronger. I think the character of Belle had quite a bit to do with that! Belle was my favourite character – she was bold and forthright, unusual for a woman of that time, but thoroughly entertaining. I would have liked Donovan and Honor’s relationship explored a little more – what was it (besides lust) that drew them to each other?

Quiet, but interesting. I’ll definitely read more of Chevalier, and so will my reading friend!

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4 thoughts on “The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier

Add yours

  1. I listened to the audio version of this one and liked. I thought it was going to be about slavery but it was more about Quaker life and Honor’s journey from innocence. The quilting stuff was interesting too. I’ve tried hand quilting and all I can say is I’m glad the sewing machine was invented!

  2. I’ve read several books by Tracy Chevalier. They are well written and are based on actual events or people.The girl with the Pearl Earring tells the story of a maid in Vermeers household .very interesting

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