When Quaker Honor Bright set sail from England to America in 1850, she was determined to look forward to her future and make a new life in the thriving, young country across the Atlantic. After being jilted by the man she was supposed to marry, Honor finds it unbearable to remain among family and friends who are filled with sympathy for her plight.
Luckily, Honor's bubbly sister, Grace, is engaged to marry an Englishman who now lives in Ohio, and she is more than happy to have her sister's company as she sets out on this journey. Once the duo arrive in America, however, tragedy strikes and Honor is forced to move forward without Grace, relying upon the kindness of strangers to make her way.
When Honor arrives in Ohio, she's immediately struck by how different it is from her home in Dorset. The Americans are bold and brash, the roads are muddy and treacherous, and the bugs that like to bite and sting her are on the attack. She also must deal with the oppressive summer humidity and harsh winter temperatures, conquer her fear of the overwhelming woods that encroach from all angles, and survive on a diet of strange, sometimes unpalatable, food.
"THE LAST RUNAWAY...is truly one of the most beautiful stories I've ever read.... For a fictional character, Honor's thoughts contain an amazing ring of truth that hit home with me regularly throughout my reading."
Honor also must learn to live with Grace's intended husband, Adam, who had no idea she was coming, and his recently widowed sister-in-law, Abigail, who makes it clear that Honor has no welcome place in her unkempt home. In the interest of keeping a positive attitude, Honor tries to take comfort in sewing and religion. Known in Dorset for her beautiful quilts and intricate needlework, she finds that even quilting is done differently in America. The same goes for the religious meetings of Friends. While she found it easy to sit in the silence and hear directly from God in England, the American meetings leave her feeling unable to make that supernatural connection for which she desperately longs.
The one thing that does make Honor feel needed and worthwhile in America is her ability to help the runaway slaves who are traveling north via the Underground Railroad. Even though she knows she may pay a high price for her trouble, Honor cannot turn her back on those who need her help to gain the freedom she believes is rightfully theirs. Her task is made all the harder when a roguish, yet undeniably attractive, slave catcher takes a romantic interest in her.
Will Honor be able to make a place in this new land that is so foreign from what she knows, or will she bring disgrace, dishonor and disaster on herself and the Quaker community in Ohio?
THE LAST RUNAWAY by GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING author Tracy Chevalier is truly one of the most beautiful stories I've ever read. Perhaps as a native Ohioan with Quaker roots who is married to an Englishman, I'm biased, but the descriptions of Honor's feelings regarding the strangeness of America when compared to England are remarkably similar to the impressions expressed by my own husband during his time here. Apparently, even the 160-year time difference between Honor's arrival and my husband's is not enough to erase that. For a fictional character, Honor's thoughts contain an amazing ring of truth that hit home with me regularly throughout my reading.
I was also captivated by the vivid characters Honor meets in America and by her simplicity of lifestyle and beautiful kindness of spirit during her own trials. Honor does not mouth the Quaker principles she's been raised with; she truly tries to live them no matter what the consequences. Her conscience will let her do no less, and her compassion for her fellow human beings demands action.
As good as she is, Honor is not holier-than-thou or boringly religious. She's simply a woman in a strange land trying to make her way. The narrative of the book is fascinating as we learn about her daily life, which includes canning, cooking and cleaning, and we are privy to her true feelings and emotional growth through the letters she writes to those she loves and misses back in England.
Reviewed by Amie Taylor on January 24, 2013