Book: The Last Runaway by TracY Chevalier
Genre: Historical Fiction
When Honor Bright, an English Quaker, leaves England to escape the awkward hole of her broken engagement, she leaves with her sister, and the understanding that her sister will be married to a settled farmer, thus giving Honor a place to stay. Tragedy strikes, and her sister dies before reaching their final destination. Honor finds herself in a situation laughably worse than her situation in England, with no true place to call her own. America is a harsh place in the mid 1800s, and much different from England. Even the Quaker community seems rougher, and Honor is appalled at their lack of conviction regarding the equality of man. When she finds herself faced with the choice of living by her convictions and aiding slaves as they flee north, or abiding by the mute compliance of her new community, how will she choose? Will she give up the vestige traces of her old self and life, or settle for pleasing this new community?
The Last Runaway alternately thrilled me and left me puzzled. I have a soft spot in my heart for anything related to The Underground Railroad (What can I say? I read way too much about Harriet Tubman as a youth…) so parts of this book were right up my alley. On the other hand, it made me a little mad that a character who was strong enough to leave her beloved home and community to sail halfway around the world could be such a timid nincompoop about other things. Why does Honor just deal with the snippy attitudes of the women in the new community? Honestly, it amazed me that she could find the courage to do anything to help the slaves escape when she was such a baby 90% of the time.
I will say that they book seemed to be pretty true to what I know of the historical period it was set in, and that was definitely in it’s favor.
It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the book so much as the fact that Honor seemed like a bit of a conundrum to me. I just don’t see how one could sail across the ocean and make a new home on your own, help slaves escape, and still be terrified beyond all reason of your mother-in-law.
The Last Runaway really reminded me of Jennifer Chiaverini’s ‘The Elm Creek Quilters’. I felt that the writing style/historical aspects were similar. Both seem to be very polished, detail oriented historical writers. Plus, there is actually an element of quilting in The Last Runaway that only serves to make the comparison stronger.
My issues with the main character aside, I did really enjoy this book. The story was intriguing, and there were some fantastic supporting characters. The end made me wish that the story had gone a different route, to some extent, but Honor finally came into her own and started sticking up for herself, so it was still satisfying in a way. I recommend it if you have a penchant for historical fiction, and particularly if you have enjoyed books in the vein of Chiaverini’s historical fiction.
I really liked it: 4 out of 5 stars