The Last Runaway
Tracy Chevalier (Adult Historical Fiction)
She had grown up with the understanding that slavery was wrong and must be opposed, but that had been all thoughts and words. Now she must actually do something though she did not yet know what.
Honor Bright left her family in Dorset, England to accompany her sister, Grace—set to marry a fellow Quaker—to America. It’s 1850 and the federal government is on the cusp of passing The Fugitive Slave Act, which would strengthen the rights of slave owners while threaten the rights of free blacks. Upon Honor’s arrival, tragedy forces her to solely navigate these new customs and laws…laws which conflict with her Quaker beliefs. When she befriends Belle Mills, a no-nonsense and generous milliner, and Mrs. Reed, a free black woman, Honor unwittingly becomes part of the Underground Railroad and will be forced to choose between her principles and her family.
This is the third book by Chevalier that I’ve read and her stories and characters never seem to disappoint. Alternating between third-person narration and first-person point-of-view through letters written by and to Honor, The Last Runaway is a thrilling story set in the harsh, untamed, yet beautiful backdrop of Ohio. Not only does Honor have to adjust to a new family and a harsh climate, she also has to navigate the unwanted attention from a would-be romantic interest, wariness from the locals, familial hostility, and a political environment that goes against everything she’s been taught. Rather than buckle under the weight of these challenges, Honor finds a way to acclimate and even discovers a unique way to protest and stand up for what she believes in.
Chevalier gives us several rich and multi-dimensional characters that keep the action and suspense going at a steady pace with a satisfying and unexpected climax at the end. The author provides necessary backstories so readers better understand her characters’ motivations to prevent false assumptions being made while allowing some amount of empathy to be extended to characters who might on the surface not deserve it.
Throughout the story, Honor is desperately searching for her place in the world…a “slot” in which her life was meant to fit. Bestselling author Robert G. Allen once wrote, “Everything you want is just outside your comfort zone.” Honor Bright abandoned her comfort zone by leaving her home, traveling across an ocean, braving blistering summers and unrelenting winters, learning to milk cows, and defying her family and community. By doing so, Honor did get everything she wanted and finally found a reason to stop running.
* Book cover image attributed to: www.abebooks.com
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