Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Last Runaway
By, Tracy Chevalier

Plume (January 8, 2013) ASIN: B008EXJVTQ, 320 pages
Sold by Penguin Group (USA) LLC $9.22
A Book Review by Ginger Dawn Harman
The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier was our monthly book club selection at my local library located in Inwood, West Virginia. I have read, Girl with a Pearl Earring by Chevalier and was rather excited to read this novel.

Additionally, I had chosen this book from the library book club reading list for our discussion. Chevalier has a talent to transport the reader to the historical realm of antebellum Ohio with strong character development, amazing dialog, and historical accuracy. The Last Runaway is set during the 1850’s, in the cornfields of Oberlin, Ohio. Quaker Honor Bright has been jilted by her English fiancé in Bristol, England and makes the decision to travel to American with her sister Grace. Yet, life doesn’t always go according to Honor’s plan. Grace dies in route to Ohio, and Honor is unable to return home because of debilitating seasickness. 

She is companionless, shy, and dependent on the kindness of strangers. However, Honor is befriended by Belle Mills, a local hat maker in Oberlin. Complicating matters, Belle has a brother named Donovan, a runaway slave hunter who is introduced to Honor during her arrival to town. This introduction causes shock, confusion, and a stir of emotion for young Honor. Yet, love is found in the cornfields. Reader’s hearts are constantly tugged between Donovan, the local bad boy and Jack Haymaker the Quaker dairy farmer. Themes of resilience, choice, and the injustice of slavery are present in this novel.

My favorite character was Belle Mills. She is a free spirit, blunt, independent, and kind-hearted woman. As I read, The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier, I was impressed by the development of Honor through her relationship with Belle. They grew together and created the voice that Honor so desperately needed. On the other hand, the relationship gives Belle the perspective to find the Quaker belief of “divine inner light that resides within every human being, no matter how bad they might seem on the outside.” I did not find this book as thought provoking as Chevalier’s, Girl with a Pearl Earring. 
Read more about Tracy Chevalier's quilts on this link.

This is why I have rated this book a four out of five star. I prefer a novel that provokes thought with entertainment. Even though The Last Runaway contains rich imagery, very few passages captured me. I felt a bit disappointed with the author’s missed opportunity to have a passage about slavery and the human condition not utilized. We discussed this as a group and came to the conclusion that the author’s purpose was to entertain with a light enjoyable read.

The author used letters, quilting frolics, and dialog throughout the novel to develop the internal and external conflict. I was impressed with the historical accuracy provided by the author. For example, the amount of time that news would arrive from Ohio to Bristol during the 1850’s could take as long as two months or more. Furthermore, the comparison of quilting styles of the English to local Quakers were rich with details and further established the conflicts that Honor must resolve between her mother and sister-in-law. The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier is a humble, authentic, and enjoyable read. It will be enjoyed mostly by woman ranging from preteen to adult.


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