The last runaway by Tracy Chevalier
Dutton, 2013. ISBN 9780525952992.
(Age: 14+) Recommended. Honor Bright is a young Quaker woman who travels to America with her sister to escape disappointment when the man she hoped to marry weds another woman. She finds herself alone in a very strange land and has difficulty coming to terms with the huge differences in attitudes in Ohio where she settles. She must come to grips with the injustice of slavery and the stretch between what she believes is just and principled and what is acceptable in this new country. She becomes involved with the Underground Railroad and makes friends with two remarkable women.
Tracy Chevalier is a favourite author of mine and I found it very difficult to put this fascinating historical story down. Told in the third person in alternate chapters it relates what is happening in Honor's life, and each of these chapters has a heading that grabs the attention and provides a context for the story that follows. Other chapters are in letter form as Honor writes home to England telling her family and friends her feelings and what is happening to her. Honor is an intriguing character, quiet and modest, but with a strong sense of justice. She uses silence as a means of meditation as a Quaker and also as a way of letting others know what she believes. She struggles as she attempts to fit in with her new family, while trying not to compromise her beliefs about slavery.
I found the setting of pioneer Ohio seen through the eyes of Honor, new to the land, provided a rich background to the story. The farm where she lives, milking the cows, looking after the chickens and bringing in the harvest, are vividly described. The skill that Honor brought to quilt-making, and the hats that the women loved, brought alive the domestic life of women of that time.
The themes of slavery, freedom, compromise, love and religion make The last runaway a very worthwhile read.