The Last Runaway
by Tracy Chevalier
Narrated by Kate Reading
Penguin Audio, 2013
9 hours and 51 minutes
source: review copy provided by publisher
In New York Times best-selling author Tracy Chevalier’s newest historical saga, she introduces Honor Bright, a modest English Quaker who moves to Ohio in 1850, only to find herself alienated and alone in a strange land. Sick from the moment she leaves England, and fleeing personal disappointment, she is forced by family tragedy to rely on strangers in a harsh, unfamiliar landscape.
Nineteenth-century America is practical, precarious, and unsentimental, and scarred by the continuing injustice of slavery. In her new home Honor discovers that principles count for little, even within a religious community meant to be committed to human equality.
However, drawn into the clandestine activities of the Underground Railroad, a network helping runaway slaves escape to freedom, Honor befriends two surprising women who embody the remarkable power of defiance. Eventually she must decide if she too can act on what she believes in, whatever the personal costs.
A powerful journey brimming with color and drama, The Last Runaway is Tracy Chevalier’s vivid engagement with an iconic part of American history.
The Last Runaway offers its reader a glimpse into 1850's Quaker life, the workings of the Underground Railroad, and one young English woman's perspective on the strangeness of life in America. The story is told with no-frills language in a very straight-forward manner, and the inclusion of Honor's letters to family and friends back home in England provides a better understanding of her character.
"I feel very confused now. I am in a part of the country where there is much movement, and yet I do not know where to move myself. And America is such a peculiar country. It is young and untested, its foundations uncertain."
Quilting is also prominently featured in the narrative. There is a good deal of discussion about patterns, styles, and technique which may seem tedious to the reader with no prior knowledge or interest in the subject. However, it was a plus for me.
Finally, after a string of books with ambiguous endings, the tidy resolution of this story proved very satisfying.
A note on the audio production:
Kate Reading's list of audio credits is extensive, but this was my first experience with her narration. Her adopted tone and manner were perfectly suited to Quaker speech and enhanced my overall enjoyment of the book.
Read or listen?
Bottom line :
Not quite as strong as Chevalier's previous novels, The Last Runaway is still a good read. Recommended.