The Last Runaway (2013)

by Tracy Chevalier

Readers discovered Tracy Chevalier’s historical fiction with the bestselling Girl with a Pearl Earring (1999). The Last Runaway, Chevalier’s first historical novel set in the United States, is as good but not as well known, perhaps because it doesn’t feature a famous person. Its protagonist is a fictional character, a young Quaker woman from England who gets caught up in the plight of escaped slaves in 1850s America.

Honor Bright was asked by her sister, Grace, to accompany her to Ohio, where a man from their hometown is waiting to marry her. Honor’s own fiancee had jilted her, giving her another incentive to go. Grace tragically dies before they reach their destination. After rooming with her sister’s fiancee and his widowed sister-in-law, Honor marries a local Quaker, Jack Haymaker, and joins him, his sister, and their domineering mother on a farm. The Underground Railroad runs right by their property, and Honor wants to help the escapees. Even though Quakers oppose slavery, the Haymakers object because they lost their husband/father and property in the South for helping escaped slaves. Honor is caught between the Haymakers’ restrictions and her own principles.

The Last Runaway is a well-researched book. Readers learn not only about the Underground Railroad but also quilting (Honor is a master quilter) and the rough-and-tumble ways of a US town in the mid-19th century. The characters are strong as well, especially a milliner who takes Honor in and shows her an example of courage.


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