The Last Runaway

Written by Tracy Chevalier
Review by Hanne Pearce

A young Quaker woman, Honor Bright, has left her civilized home of Bridport in England for the wild, untamed wilderness of Ohio. The year is 1850, and after being slighted by her fiancé, Honor decides to join her sister, Grace, who is going to America to marry. After a perilous sea voyage, Honor sadly loses her sister to yellow fever. Alone in a strange land, she comes into her would-be brother-in-law’s community without any idea what to do next. It becomes clear that Honor cannot live with her sister’s intended and his widowed sister-in-law for very long, but she is unsure if she would survive a return voyage to England.

Trying to set down roots with the Quakers, Honor soon learns that her new home is directly in the path of the Underground Railroad. Laws in America still uphold slavery, despite the growing sentiment against it. Honor is unable to quell her beliefs that slavery is wrong, and, despite repeated warnings, she helps running slaves to move on to their next destination. Eventually, however, this causes a rift between her and her community, causing her to question everything she has ever known.

As in her other books, Tracy Chevalier manages to transport the reader into the past with remarkable realism. The worlds of her characters seem small at the onset, but as one peels away the layers, they surprise with their depth. Honor’s story is peppered with the delicate realities of a woman’s life in the times: of gardens, quilts, bonnets, and a helplessness that had to be overcome to survive. The rugged and lack-lustre world of Ohio as it seems to Honor in the beginning gradually fills with color and characters that both anger and warm the heart. The Last Runaway is a fresh look into the history of slavery and the Quaker lifestyle. Highly recommended.