The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier

January 31, 2013 Historical Fiction 23

Hello My Bookworms!

I had a hankering for some historical fiction, so I decided I needed to check out Tracy Chevalier’s new novel, The Last Runaway. Our heroine, Honor Bright, is a Quaker. It’s the 1850s and she’s been jilted by her fiance in England. Her sister, Grace, is heading off to the USA to meet up with her fiance and get married, so she invites Honor to join her. New world, new start, right? Unfortunately, Honor’s new start is inauspicious- she’s hideously seasick the entire trip, and almost as soon as they hit land, Honor’s sister gets some new world ailment and dies. (It’s seriously SO Oregon Trail.) Honor is stuck in a new country with her dead sister’s fiance and no idea what to do with herself.


Honor ends up in Ohio, and in the 1850s, Ohio is a pretty rugged place. It’s also a haven for the Underground Railroad. Slavery was still running rampant in the southern states. Ohio, being where it is geographically, had a lot of runaway slaves traipsing through the woods. As Quakers, Honor and her crew are anti-slavery. Unfortunately, it was dangerous to be an abolitionist. You were breaking all kinds of ugly laws to aid runaway slaves, which put Quakers in a moral pickle. Honor struggles to figure out what her place is in this new country, while wrestling with her moral convictions. It’s the perfect setting for a little drama on the frontier… And some sexy bonnets.

All of Chevalier’s novels that I’ve read thus far have had a major artistic undercurrent. The Virgin Blue and The Girl With The Pearl Earring made the artistic connection through paintings, while Burning Bright used the poetry of Robert Blake. The Last Runaway was all about the glory of the quilt. I really dug the idea of quilting as an art. Throughout the book, Honor not only takes comfort in her own sewing, but also in a signature quilt her family and friends gave to her when she left England. The quilt wasn’t simply stitched together by her community, it also included notes of encouragement to wish her well on her journey. Isn’t that a beautiful tradition? Wouldn’t that make a fantastic wedding gift? Prepare yourself to be jealous because… I totally got a signature quilt as a wedding gift!


Beautiful, right?!

Jim’s hometown, while not being a quaint Quaker village, is the sort of place where people make friends with their neighbors. Sometimes those neighbors are amazingly talented quilters who like to make really nice gifts! We had the signature squares set out at my bridal shower so the guests could leave us good luck notes. I like to think Honor got to look at messages like this when she was feeling down:


The Last Runaway will appeal to lovers of historical fiction, people who like reading about abolitionists, anybody who likes quilting, and everyone who has ever wanted to decorate their plain boring bonnet. It was an easy, enjoyable read. I wouldn’t say it was a novel that changed my life or anything, but it was a pleasant way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Since Honor’s signature quilt represents her ties to home, let’s get sentimental. What is the most meaningful thing you own that reminds you of your metaphorical “roots”?

23 Responses to “The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier”

  1. JoulesDellinger

    Oh my, I LOVE your quilt! So incredibly thoughtful!

    At my wedding I did the thing where you have people sign the mat of your engagement photo and it’s hanging in our foyer. Even better than that is the “wishes” that people wrote out for me at my baby shower. Each wish is written on a paper bird and they’re all hung on tree branches. It’s in our den now and every time I walk past it I smile. There’s a couple pictures in this post:

  2. therelentlessreader

    This sounds like my cup of tea, even if I’m not a quilter. I do have a quilt that my grandma made me though, I LOVE it 🙂

    • Words for Worms

      I love this kind of thing. And I love handmade stuff! I’m completely useless at anything craftier than a no-sew fleece blanket, and I think that makes me appreciate my handmade gifts even more. I bet your grandma quilt is extra awesome. Grandmas pour a little extra love into everything, you know?

  3. Melissa

    I have a couple Tracy Chevalier books sitting on my bookshelf that I haven’t ever gotten around to reading. I love historical fiction and after reading your review I’m inspired to move them to the top of my “to read” pile.

    My sentimental item is without doubt my dining room table. It was my great grandparents passed down to my grandparents and now to me (I lucked out and was the only one with a dining room large enough for it!). Not only is it beautiful, but I have so many sweet memories of large family meals gathered around that table. My cousins and I would spend hours under the table playing like it was our hideout. I almost cried the other day when I found my boys laughing under the table as they played in their “spy headquarters”. I hope they make as many fond memories around and under that table as I have and that someday I can pass it down to one of them 🙂

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