Published by: Penguin
Published on: January 8, 2013
Page Count: 320
Genre: Historical Fiction
My Reading Format: Audiobook sent to me by the publisher for consideration
Audiobook Published by: Penguin Audio
Narrator: Kate Reading
Audiobook Length: 9 hours 51 minutes
Available Formats: Hardcover, eBook, and Audiobook
It is one thing to have strongly held principles in the abstract. It’s quite another to do so in practice. When Honor Bright, a shy quiet young Quaker fleeing from the painful ending of her engagement, decides to leave her home in England in 1850 to journey to the United States with her beloved sister traveling to Ohio to be with her betrothed, she is quick to learn just that. Before she and her sister can make the journey from New York to Ohio, Grace falls sick and dies. Honor is left on her own to contend with all that is new to her about this new land, including slavery and its consequences. Even though slavery is not legal in Ohio, Honor meets a slave hunter long before she reaches her destination. As she tries to create a life for herself in this foreign place, she finds that keeping true to Quaker values does not unite her with her new community of Friends. It further alienates her.
Over the years Tracy Chevalier’s characters have been among my favorites. I now add Honor Bright and Belle Mills to that list. Honor is such a tender soul. That she left her life and the community she knew and loved because her fiancé ended up choosing another woman over her said so much to me about who she was. I felt for her so deeply as she confronted a life alone in a new country and learned that nothing, not even a shared faith, was the same. In many ways, Honor was damned no matter which way she turned. Still, in choosing to honor herself and her beliefs she became truly American. Belle Mills is a firecracker. I loved her from the moment she offered Honor a place to stay while she waited for Grace’s betrothed to pick her up. The Last Runaway reinforced my opinion that all Belle’s in literature must be outspoken, good people, and unafraid to skirt the law or societal expectations for what is right. If they aren’t, they are misnamed and will only disappoint. In an inhospitable land, I was very thankful that Belle took Honor underneath her wing. Belle made a home for all runaways, regardless of whom or what they were fleeing.
I don’t believe I have ever read a novel with a Quaker as the main character. As much as Honor was new to Ohio, her life and worship experiences were foreign to me. There was a scene in The Marriage Plot that took place during a Quaker service, but The Last Runaway made me feel as if I was there myself. I very much enjoyed being immersed in Quaker tradition and beliefs as I read Honor’s story. I also loved the role in which quilting played. I have dabbled in quilting myself long ago before I had children. Honor and her quilting could easily convince someone to take up needle, thread, and fabric. It was lovely.
The Last Runaway for me was a case of all things unexpected. I have read all of Tracy Chevalier’s novels with the exception of Burning Bright. I have consistently loved her work, so I was excited to receive an audiobook copy of The Last Runaway in the mail. I started it almost immediately. I knew before I began that this novel took place in the United States instead of Europe, but one of the first things that struck me when I started listening was how different this novel was. It was not at all what I had been expecting and it was wonderful. Likewise, my previous experience with narrator Kate Reading’s work has been through novels set in England. I had assumed she was British so I wasn’t expecting her engaging American accents. Listening to her narrate this novel put me back in time in the Midwest just as much as Chevalier’s prose. I especially loved what she did with Belle. Together, Tracy Chevalier and Kate Reading made The Last Runaway an engaging, memorable reading experience.