I love Tracy Chevalier’s historical fiction novels. Girl with the Pearl Earring, The Virgin Blue, and Burning Bright are some of my favorite novels. I was very excited by the opportunity to review Chevalier’s latest novel on audiobook, The Last Runaway.
The Runaway explores a fascinating chapter of American History, the Underground Railroad that helped runaway slaves escape to Canada, especially prevalent in the 1850’s. I have always been fascinated by the Underground Railroad. I grew up in Union City, Michigan, which was a station along the railroad. There was a tunnel used on the underground railroad discovered during road construction in the 1990’s and many tales of hidden tunnels and passageways in town. Especially interesting is that four incomplete sets of mystery bones have recently been discovered in the home of a known stationmaster, John Zimmerman (http://www.foxnews.com/us/2012/10/04/old-human-bones-found-in-michigan-attic-to-be-interred-at-1800-style-funeral/). This is worthy of a blog post or novel of its own, but I am fascinated with this era of history.
Moving back to the book review, Chevalier explores the trials of being involved with the Underground Railroad. Honor Bright is a young English Quaker. Jilted by her fiancée, she leaves England with her sister for a new life in America. After tragedy strikes, Honor finds herself alone and in a very awkward situation. Honor makes the best of it, but finds herself adrift in Ohio. She begins to help with the Underground Railroad as slavery is against her Quaker believes. She soon learns that things are not always black and white in the Quaker world for slavery. What is the morality if a Quaker does not help a slave, but also does not turn them in? What is a Quaker obeys the letter of the Fugitive Slave law even though it is against their moral believes? Weighty topics are to be had in this novel.
Honor is also a part of a love triangle. I didn’t think I would ever think kindly of a slave catcher, but Donovan is a real three-dimensional figure that Honor abhors, yet is attracted to. Interesting and colorful characters are found throughout the novel.
Another fascinating part of the novel was quilting. Honor is an expert at making quilts and all are awed by her sewing skills. Honor brings her English quilting ways to America, but soon finds that things are done differently in America.
The central question of the novel is if Honor can find her way in America. Whether she can learn to adapt to American ways and leave her old English ways behind. It is also a question of moral beliefs. How firm should one stick to their beliefs amidst adversity?
This was a fascinating audiobook to listen too. I enjoyed Kate Reading’s narration, except for when she was Honor’s voice while talking or reading letters. She gave Honor a very strange voice and accent that annoyed me. All of her other voices were excellent.
Overall, I highly recommend this book – I’m still thinking about it two weeks after I finished it!
I am the Environmental Engineering Technology Instructor at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College and a mom with three wonderful children; two sons and one daughter. I have loved to read and watch movies since I was a child. I knew my husband was for me when I found him looking through my books in my apartment during our first date and offering his opinion!