The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a huge Tracy Chevalier fan, but haven’t been as good as I should have been in keeping up with her newest books. I read At the Edge of the Orchard and thought it was just okay, but I really did like The Last Runaway. Count it in the category with Girl with a Pearl Earring and Falling Angels.
Honor Bright is a young Quaker woman from England, come to America with her sister Grace to Ohio so that Grace can be married. However, when tragedy befalls them, Honor finds herself alone in a strange country and dependent on the mercy of strangers. She meets two remarkable women who challenge her to not accept the American Quaker complacency towards slavery and mistreatment of African-American individuals. And yet her family ties cannot be shaken. Honor stands at a crossroads during one of the most contentious spots in American history. She must decide whether to let her conscience be her guide or adhere to family loyalty.
What I liked about this novel was that it challenged the main character into advocacy, and it certainly did not indulge in white-savior complex. Rather, the two women call Honor out on her self-pity in no uncertain terms, which is a good reminder for all of us who are white and wish to “do good,” both out of altruism and guilt. Chevalier often writes complex, interesting, and awesome women in her novels, and this book is peopled with them. Belle Mills might be my favorite character of hers ever, because she is deliciously sassy and takes no guff from anyone. That’s my kind of reading, right there. If you’re looking for a Chevalier place to start and/or like historical fiction, this is (in my opinion) a worthy entry.