The Last Runaway, By Tracy Chevalier

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Chevalier, T. (2013). The last runaway. New York: Dutton.

Hardcover $26.95, Paperback $16.00, Kindle $9.00, 320 pages, Audio book 10 hours

ISBN: 978-0142180365

Author’s Website and Interviews:

http://www.tchevalier.com/

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/mar/17/tracy-chevalier-interview-last-runaway

Online Reviews:

NPR: http://www.npr.org/2013/01/17/169068068/new-world-old-evil-in-tracy-chevaliers-runaway

The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/mar/08/the-last-runaway-tracy-chevalier-review

Annotation: Honor Bright never imagined facing this unfamiliar landscape alone and  hoped her faith would be enough to see her through.

Summary: Set in 1850, Honor Bright, an English Quaker journeys to America aboard the Adventurer with her sister Grace who is betrothed to Adam Cox, a fellow Quaker who resides in Faithwell, Ohio. During the month long voyage, Honor is overcome with sea sickness and vows never to return to England out of fear of becoming sick again. Five months after arriving in America, Grace dies from Yellow Fever and Honor blames herself for making them travel by wagon instead of boat. She heads to Faithwell in a wagon driven by Thomas with the intent of informing Adam about Grace’s death. She soon encounters Donovan, a slave hunter, who insists on checking their wagon for fugitive slaves. After a quick stay with Belle Mills, a milliner who aids slaves in the Underground Railroad, she settles into Adam’s home to live with him and his sister Abigail. This new living arrangement does not sit well with the Quaker community and Honor soon finds herself betrothed to Jack Haymaker, a local farmer whose mother is a Quaker elder. Honor believes in the abolishment of slavery and is conflicted when she learns that her new family the Haymakers do nothing to help slaves, even though the Quaker faith  opposes slavery. She learns that their unwillingness to help slaves is out of fear of losing their farm and their livelihood which makes Honor question her Quaker beliefs as she must chose between doing what is morally right and abiding by her new family’s rules and beliefs.

Evaluation: I enjoyed the book and the quality of writing but I had a hard time connecting with any of the characters, especially Honor Bright. I did appreciate Chevalier’s attention to detail concerning domestic  life as well as her comparison of American versus English Quaker culture. I did feel the story moved rather quickly and it was very descriptive. I do feel that Chevalier created strong female characters, especially Belle Mills who embodied courage and defiance and felt like these characters really helped move the story and Honor forward. I listened to the audio book version of this novel and enjoyed the narration by Kate Reading as she has narrated other audio books I have recently listened to and I felt like she did a nice job of narrating the story. I thought this book translated fairly well to audio although at times I felt Reading’s narration was a bit too slow for me and I felt like I could have read at a faster pace. The quality of Reading’s narration was great and I thought she did a nice job of voicing both the male and female characters and really brought life to the story.

Genre: Historical Fiction

Appeal Factors: Leisurely paced, dramatic, strong sense of place, descriptive, and lyrical

Read-alike Titles and Authors:

  •  The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
  • The Rebellion of Jane Clark by Sally Gunning
  • Look Away by Harold Coyle

Awards: Did not find any awards available

Booktalk Ideas:

  • Ask questions that put the reader/audience in Honor’s shoes. Discuss the theme of isolation, defiance, and faith using rhetorical questions to evoke a sense of empathy for the plight of one of the characters.

Book Discussion Questions: http://www.litlovers.com/reading-guides/13-fiction/9074-last-runaway-chevalier?start=3

  1. How does Honor’s friendship with Belle Mills impact her stay in Ohio? What role do female relationships play in the novel, especially relationships Honor develops with non-Quaker women?
  2. What is the real reason Honor does not wish to return to England? Is it more to do with the treacherous journey or her relationship with Samuel?
  3. What is the significance between Ohio quilting and England quilting? Is this representative of Honor’s feelings towards both her new home and her old one?
  4. How does Honor cope with loss throughout the book? Does she grieve differently than Americans?

A group of my peers selected this book for a book discussion and I was interested in reading it because I enjoy historical fiction. After reading the back of the book, I was interested to see what role Honor Bright played in the Underground Railroad and how her faith was tested in America.

 

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