Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier: A Story of Nineteenth Century Quakers and Runaway Slaves

In some ways, The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier is similar to Finding Fortune by Pippa Goodhart which I reviewed recently. Both books have a girl emigrating to America in the nineteenth century and writing home.
The first words of this book are 'She could not go back' which is a great hook, because you immediately ask why?
Honor Bright, what a fabulous name for a Quaker girl, is leaving for America because her fiancé has broken off their engagement, and she can't face life amongst her own community in Bridport. She is accompanying her sister, Grace, to Ohio where she is to marry Matthew, an English draper, who has set up business there. However, Grace dies on the way and Honor is left to make her own life in a new Quaker community. This is complicated by the runaway slaves escaping to the north and freedom. Honor is torn between sheltering them, and Jack Haymaker, whom she marries, and his family who will not let her. In addition, two characters are set in contrast to the straight-laced Quakers: Belle Mills, the colourful milliner, and her brother, Donovan who is out to find the slaves and return them to their owners.
I have only read one other book by Tracy Chevalier: Girl With a Pearl Earring and what sticks in my mind from that is the clear detail of colours and scenes, for example when Griet arranges the vegetables on the kitchen table like a palette of paints. Never mind about writing about a painter, Tracy Chevalier writes like one! This is carried through in The Last Runaway when she describes the quilts that Honor sews and the hats she makes at Belle's millinery shop; the bright fields of corn and the dark woods.
It is an intriguing story. Will Honor make a life for herself in Ohio? Will she help the slaves despite what people say? And will she fall for Donovan's doubtful charms?

I was pleased to win this book on The History Girls blog in a competition where you had to write about your most interesting historical research. I wrote about finding out about where my father was shot in the First World War, and later visiting the canal towpath in Northern France where it took place. Standing there on a misty morning, I could almost see the battle and hear the shots.


  1. I reviewed this book for Novelicious and really enjoyed it, too.

    1. Yes, I'm going to have to read some more of her novels:)