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.
I've got this on audio and have been hesitant to listen because Reading isn't my favorite narrator - I find her delivery kind of monotone so my mind wanders. It does sound like it's a good fit for this book though.ReplyDelete
Kathy - Yes, Reading's delivery was perfect for the Quakers. Not sure I was have enjoyed this as much in print.Delete
Sounds like a great topic. Interesting thoughts from you and Kathy about the narrator.ReplyDelete
Jill - It's a very interesting era to read about, especially the Quaker connection to the Underground Railroad.Delete
I've really loved some of Chevalier's other novels (esp Falling Angels), but haven't made it to this one yet. Good to know it's worth a read.ReplyDelete
Melissa - Falling Angels is my favorite, too! I remember reading it on vacation in Florida many years ago... I'm sure that added to the experience.Delete
This sounds like one I'd enjoy listening to as well. I haven't read any of her books before but it sounds like I should.ReplyDelete
Darlene - It was the listening equivalent of a breath of fresh air!Delete
This sounds interesting. Thanks for your review.ReplyDelete
Great review. I love Tracy Chevalier. I am not a quilter, however. So I might choose to read, so I can skip the technical bits.ReplyDelete
Col - I never thought of that... it would be much easier to skip over the quilting in print!Delete
I've got this on audio but haven't loaded it yet because I know ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about quilting. I think quilts look pretty and that is the extent of it. But hey I might learn something, so I might give this one a go anyway.ReplyDelete
Sandy - Who knows, you may decide to take up quilting ;-)Delete
I'm so glad to have your thoughts on the audio version. I'm going to add this to my audio reads for the fall semester.
Enjoy your weekend!
Judith - It was a nice change of pace for me.Delete
I have the one on audio - glad to hear it's a good listen!ReplyDelete
Carrie - It is... hope you enjoy it, too!Delete
I was at a signing of hers a few years ago when she mentioned that her current book took place in Ohio. I guess this means I should give it a try :)ReplyDelete
Stacybuckeye - I was thinking of you as I listened...Delete
Such an interesting book--I loved the quilting aspects myself, and was just talking the other day about Honor's initial reaction to American red on white applique, and how it proved to fit and cheer the frontier landscape and environment more than English patchwork could. I thought that a fascinating observation.ReplyDelete
I'm about to start How Make an American Quilt.
Glad you enjoyed the book!
JaneGS - The quilting passages really added another dimension to the book. I was especially interested in the number of quilts young women needed to bring to a marriage, like a dowry. It made me want to get the unfinished projects out of my closet, or possibly start a new one!Delete
I read How to Make an American Quilt many years ago - remember liking it, but not much else. Enjoy!
I really enjoyed this, especially as I didn't know much about the role the Quakers played in the anti-slavery movement before. However, I agree with you that it isn't her best book.ReplyDelete
Sam - It was so interesting reading about the Quakers and their lives... I never tire of that subject. Chevalier certainly did her research and produced a very interesting story!Delete
I have two other Chevelier books waiting for me and I'm looking forward to them but only because when I get to all of that research detail she likes to include, I'll be able to skim. That's my one drawback of "reading" books on CD - no fast forward! This one sounds great but I'll have to think carefully about audio.ReplyDelete
Lisa - I can see where you might hesitate with the audio if you're not particularly interested in the quilting details, but the narration really added to my experience.Delete
I've liked her past work so I would certainly listen to this one based on your review!! I have been so busy lately that I haven't listened to my audio book in over two weeks!!!!ReplyDelete
Staci - I do enjoy this author. Judging from all you have going on this month, I wouldn't be surprised if it's September before you get back to your audiobook:)Delete