In "New York Times "bestselling 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."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-12-10
- Reviewer: Staff
Chevalier’s (Girl with a Pearl Earring) haunting seventh novel delves into the difference between a theory of belief and its practice. When young Quaker Honor Bright’s fiancé breaks off the relationship to marry outside the faith, Honor goes to America in 1850 with her sister, Grace. Grace is engaged to marry Adam Cox, a young man from their hometown who followed his brother to Faithwell, Ohio. Unfortunately, Grace dies en route, and Honor arrives in Ohio to find Adam sharing a house with Abigail, his sister-in-law, made a widow by the death of Adam’s brother. Honor moves into the house, but feels tense and unwelcome. In Belle Mills, a milliner who appreciates Honor’s sewing skills, Honor finds a friend and ally. Honor also draws the attention of Belle’s brother, Donovan, a slave hunter, and Jack Haymaker, a local farmer, a man “like a pulled muscle that Honor sensed every time she moved.” They marry and Honor, drawn by her sympathies into helping the Underground Railroad, is forced to choose between living her beliefs and merely speaking them. The birth of her own child raises the stakes, and she takes a unique stand in her untenable situation. Honor’s aching loneliness, overwhelming kindness, and stubborn convictions are beautifully rendered, as are the complexities of all the supporting characters and the vastness of the harsh landscape. Honor’s quiet determination provides a stark contrast to the roiling emotions of the slave issue, the abolitionist fight, and the often personal consequences. Chevalier’s thought-provoking, lyrical novel doesn’t allow any of her characters an easy way out. Agent: Jonny Geller, Curtis Brown (U.K.). (Jan.)
A tale of freedom from Chevalier
Tracy Chevalier, of Girl With a Pearl Earring fame, shifts her focus from Europe and enigmatic works of art to 1850s Ohio and the Underground Railroad in her latest, The Last Runaway. Jilted by her fiancé, quiet Quaker Honor Bright departs safe England for untamed America, and learns there that living according to one’s principles is easier said than done.
Left suddenly alone on her new continent after a family tragedy, Honor seeks comfort in the meditative routine of her beloved quilting. Her talent for stitching gains her an unlikely friend: the whiskey-swilling, cursing Kentucky export Belle Mills, who, to Honor’s shock, is hiding runaway slaves. Opposed to slavery like other Quakers, Honor silently approves of Belle’s actions, but when she begins helping slaves herself, she is met with resistance from her new community of Friends—despite their passionate abolitionist speeches. Further complicating matters are Honor’s first stirrings of lust: Belle’s brother, Donovan, is coarse, violent and, worst of all, a slave hunter—yet Honor can’t get him out of her head, even as she’s drawn to red-blooded Quaker farmer Jack Haymaker. As Honor moves deeper into the risky world of aiding slaves, she is confronted with several difficult choices.
Evoking 19th-century Ohio life with a quiet lushness, Chevalier seamlessly seeds vivid period details into her writing. Though minor bits test patience—Honor can supposedly hear an eye blink—the conflicts of this young woman’s head and heart will pull readers to the last page. Chevalier questions the difference between bravery and foolishness and explores whether ideology should displace family ties, and her characters are drawn with satisfying shades of gray. Having lived in England for nearly 30 years, the American-born Chevalier calls this novel her “love letter home.” Warm and thoughtful, The Last Runaway gratifyingly probes America’s growing pains.