The basics: The Last Runaway is the story of Honor Bright, a young, British Quaker woman who sets out with her engaged sister to move to Ohio in 1950.
My thoughts: When I sat down to read The Last Runaway on a flight to Portland, Oregon in October, I had to take a deep breath. I admit: I fear my favorite authors will disappoint me. I fear I will somehow outgrow them or their worth will outgrow me. With The Last Runaway, I was also afraid because the topic of the Underground Railroad is fascinating to me. I didn't want my high hopes to hamper my enjoyment of the novel. Looking back, I'm grateful I started this novel at a time when I had hours to read it, both because I didn't want to put it down and because it wasn't as I expected it to be.
Honor's journey begins in England. She decides to accompany her sister to Ohio, where her sister is set to marry a young man from their town. The journey is brutal for Honor's seasickness, and she realizes she will never return; she believes she could not bear another trip. This decision combines sadness and acceptance, and it's a window into Honor's worldview, which is largely shaped by her Quaker faith. From the time the ship lands until Honor reaches Ohio, Chevalier does a beautiful job expressing how foreign the land is and how utterly alone Honor is. The loneliness is palpable. The book has already taken a deeply moving physical, emotional and geographical journey, yet there is not yet mention of the Underground Railroad. There are allusions to race relations in Ohio, but I found myself caring less about what I thought this book would be about and more about taking this journey with Honor. Once my mind shifted from expectation to reality, I enjoyed that journey (and Honor) even more.
Favorite passage: "We got us a long way to go. It surely ain’t somethin’ you need to break your marriage over. That’s jes’ foolinshness. Any runaway would tell you that. All they want is the freedom to make the kind of life you got. You go and throw that away for their sake, you jes’ mockin’ their own dreams."
The verdict: The Last Runaway is classic Chevalier, and Honor Bright is a dynamic, fascinating character. While this novel will perhaps inevitably be billed as one about the Underground Railroad, it's more about Honor and her journeys: geographically, romantically and spiritually. Honor's role in the Underground Railroad is certainly compelling, but it's merely one part of her compelling journey and her contemplations of faith.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 320 pages
Publication date: January 8, 2013
Source: publisher via Elle magazine
Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Last Runaway from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.)
As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!