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The Last Runaway | [Tracy Chevalier]

The Last Runaway

In best-selling author Tracy Chevalier’s newest historical saga, she introduces Honor Bright, a modest English Quaker who moves to Ohio in 1850, only to find herself alienated and alone in a strange land. Sick from the moment she leaves England, and fleeing personal disappointment, she is forced by family tragedy to rely on strangers in a harsh, unfamiliar landscape. Nineteenth-century America is practical, precarious, and unsentimental, and scarred by the continuing injustice of slavery. In her new home Honor discovers that principles count for little, even within a religious community meant to be committed to human equality.
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Publisher's Summary

New York Times best-selling author of Girl With a Pearl Earring, Tracy Chevalier, makes her first fictional foray into the American past in The Last Runaway, bringing to life the Underground Railroad and illuminating the principles, passions and realities that fueled this extraordinary freedom movement.

In New York Times best-selling author Tracy Chevalier’s newest historical saga, she introduces Honor Bright, a modest English Quaker who moves to Ohio in 1850, only to find herself alienated and alone in a strange land. Sick from the moment she leaves England, and fleeing personal disappointment, she is forced by family tragedy to rely on strangers in a harsh, unfamiliar landscape.

Nineteenth-century America is practical, precarious, and unsentimental, and scarred by the continuing injustice of slavery. In her new home Honor discovers that principles count for little, even within a religious community meant to be committed to human equality.

However, drawn into the clandestine activities of the Underground Railroad, a network helping runaway slaves escape to freedom, Honor befriends two surprising women who embody the remarkable power of defiance. Eventually she must decide if she too can act on what she believes in, whatever the personal costs.

A powerful journey brimming with color and drama, The Last Runaway is Tracy Chevalier’s vivid engagement with an iconic part of American history.

©2013 Tracy Chevalier (P)2013 Penguin Audio

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.9 (178 )
5 star
 (44)
4 star
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3 star
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2 star
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1 star
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3.9 (158 )
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1 star
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Story
4.0 (157 )
5 star
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4 star
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3 star
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2 star
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1 star
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Performance
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  •  
    Tom Asheville, NC 04-02-13
    Tom Asheville, NC 04-02-13 Member Since 2003
    HELPFUL VOTES
    128
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    70
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    "unjustified perseverance got me through"

    I trusted the author's reputation on this purchase. That plus an interest in the workings of the underground railroad. I found it rather boring. I kept listening with one ear so to speak since much was uninteresting to me. There is a lot, really a lot, of quilt making discussions. Some of the reactions of the English girl to life in America in 1850 are interesting, like how rude rocking chairs may seem. Runaway slaves do not appear until the last 1/2 hour of part one. The treatment of the issue I found mildly interesting.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sarah Kate CT 03-23-13
    Sarah Kate CT 03-23-13 Member Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
    43
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    "Easy listening, no great depth"

    I like a good historical fiction novel, and this one was an enjoyable listen. However, it was a bit thin at times. I also found the way in which race was dealt with in the novel a little problematic. Despite Chevalier's (sometimes awkward) attempts to give black characters agency, we were still left with a novel about white heroes in relation to slavery. Tracy Chevalier really was trying hard to do something a little more complex I think, but it just doesn't come out right. Sometimes listening to the discussions of race I felt uncomfortable.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Nicki CA, United States 02-19-13
    Nicki CA, United States 02-19-13 Member Since 2009

    Listening and loving it!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "New subject, new setting for Chevalier"

    I've read (and loved) a few of Tracy Chevalier's books, and this was the first one I've read (or listened to) that is set outside Europe. The story is told from the heroine's point of view, which is similar to other Chevalier books. A lot of the action of the story is presented through letters, which have the effect of advancing the story line rapidly, but which (for me) distanced me from the story. As a result, I never developed as much empathy as I wanted to for the heroine.
    Ms. Chevalier's choice of setting, in southwestern Ohio, near the town of Wilberforce, was somewhat odd from my point of view. Since the college was founded for African American students by the African Methodist Episcopal Church and was located in a racially mixed community, I found it odd that there was only one continuing black character in the story. It seemed to me that Ms. Chevalier missed the opportunity to take advantage of the setting she selected. Also, having read a lot about the underground railroad and the period in which the Fugitive Slave Act was passed, I found it unlikely that so many runaway slaves were seen during daylight, even in Ohio. The story is similar to The Runaway Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini, down to its emphasis on quilts. Overall, I was somewhat disappointed by the book.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jennifer Dickinson Bay Area, CA United States 08-26-14
    Jennifer Dickinson Bay Area, CA United States 08-26-14 Member Since 2012

    yogini, knitter, quilter, sewist, stitcher, reader, cook, foodie, wine snob, francophile, wife, dog mom, SF Giants fan

    ratings
    REVIEWS
    9
    7
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Easy, enjoyable listen (with some flaws)"

    I did truly enjoy this book, though I did occasionally find the narration a bit annoying (unexpected pauses, shifting/inconsistent accents, male voices not as realistic and an uplift at the ends of declaratory sentences) and there were a couple of plot points that seemed out of character for Honor.

    That being said, as a quilter and armchair historian of American slavery I found the subject matter, characters and overall storytelling engrossing and I am sure I will listen to it again. It is a quick listen and a very welcome escape on my commute. I especially enjoyed the quilting bits, which seemed very natural/appropriate to the plot and were accurately rendered (a huge pet peeve of mine is supposedly crafty fiction that is hardly crafty at all or just pasted on). If you like quilts or quilting, I think you will appreciate this book.

    Though Honor is the main character, she is supported by two great characters in particular: Belle and Mrs. Reed, both of whom give dimension to the story and a bit of a reality check to Honor when required.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sarah Gauthier 04-19-14
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    4
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    "Nothing mind blowing"
    Is there anything you would change about this book?

    The book was historically accurate, gave a very vivid look into early American life in the (now midwest) region of the US. The story was a little on the bland side. I have read some of Chevalier's other novels and this one was almost like an intro to a possibly more in depth and fleshed out novel.

    The plot was very simple and the characters were pretty basic. It touched on the underground railroad but only towards the end and in a very basic, textbook, learned in high school manner. I was not wowed by the read and didn't really come across anything I didn't already know.

    I personally think it focused too heavily on her being a Quaker, quilts and getting married than anything else. I understand these are important aspects of a woman's life at this time in history but if that is the plot then an entire fictional account is not necessary.


    What was your reaction to the ending? (No spoilers please!)

    I guessed it before it happened, pretty predictable. A small twist but for the most part very clean cut and laid out as expected.


    What about Kate Reading’s performance did you like?

    She has a strong English accent (from an American point of view) but she did the old Southern accents, different English accents, men and women's voices and the basic slave/freed black men and women accents very well. I always enjoy when the reader makes an effort to give life to each character by giving them a voice and mannerism that reading a book to yourself is unable to do.


    Did The Last Runaway inspire you to do anything?

    Haha it inspired me to learn how to make frontier style fruit leather! I also would love to learn how to can and pickle some fruits and veggies this summer.


    Any additional comments?

    I like Chevalier's books noverl (esp. the Virgin Blue), they are calming and not too intense which is sometimes what I need to get through a hectic week!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    T. Arcangel Honolulu 04-10-14
    T. Arcangel Honolulu 04-10-14 Member Since 2010

    I am a Special Education teacher. I grew up in Ashland, Oregon, but have lived most of my life in Hawaii. My favorite reading/listening genres are history and historical fiction.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Disappointing Surprise"
    Would you try another book from Tracy Chevalier and/or Kate Reading?

    I've read nearly everything by Tracy Chevalier. She is among my favorite authors. I have listened to other books narrated by Kate Reading and I thought she was wonderful.


    Would you be willing to try another book from Tracy Chevalier? Why or why not?

    Yes, I would.


    Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Kate Reading?

    I would cast Kate Reading, but I would ask her not to add that questioning uplift at the end of every sentence. It drove me crazy. I don't know why she did it in this book, because it isn't her style.


    Any additional comments?

    I was so excited when I read that Ms. Chevalier was to write a book about a Quaker woman. I am a descendant of Quakers, and Chevalier is one of my favorite authors. I was also very happy to find that Kate Reading would be the narrator, because she did such a fine job of reading Sara Donati's books. "The Last Runaway" fell flat for me, however. What an unpleasant surprise! I didn't like most of the characters and didn't feel involved with the rest. I kept waiting for something interesting or unexpected to happen, but it never did. finished listening to the whole thing, but I was relieved when it was over.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lynne Florence, CO, United States 03-16-14
    Lynne Florence, CO, United States 03-16-14
    ratings
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    1
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    "More than entertaining"
    Would you consider the audio edition of The Last Runaway to be better than the print version?

    The audio version is preferable to me only when I am unable to sit down and hold a book.


    What did you like best about this story?

    The information I gleaned about the Underground Railway as it pertained to the Early American Quakers & their counterparts in England


    Which character – as performed by Kate Reading – was your favorite?

    Honor!


    Who was the most memorable character of The Last Runaway and why?

    Honor's mother-in-law. She did not represent the supposedly non-judgemental, Christ like Quakers of that time.


    Any additional comments?

    I have Quaker Heritage on both sides of my family tree though my childhood paternal side did not know that. I have always appreciated the legacy I felt resulted in my own family's treatment of women in our small, rural community and in Friends churches throughout Mid-America where I grew up.
    As a result, I found the author's research and representation of this time in Early American history quite solid.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jenia Ashburn, VA, United States 04-26-13
    Jenia Ashburn, VA, United States 04-26-13
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Just okay"
    What would have made The Last Runaway better?

    This one is quite boring in my opinion. It's not stirring any kind of emotion in me, it's just something to listen too, and compared to some of the other slave type stories it's just not very good.


    What didn’t you like about Kate Reading’s performance?

    Some what computer like


    If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from The Last Runaway?

    The long scene about quilting


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Gayle Hallgren-Rezac Vancouver, BC 03-29-13
    Gayle Hallgren-Rezac Vancouver, BC 03-29-13 Member Since 2003

    I love books, but I particularly love audio books. What a luxury to have someone like Campbell Scott read you to sleep.

    HELPFUL VOTES
    6
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    10
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    "Waiting for the Quilt Code and it Never Happened"
    Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

    I usually enjoy Tracy Chevalier's books but I kept waiting for the connection between the quilt making and the use of quilts as a code* used by the Underground Railroad to help slaves find their way to Canada and freedom. Here's a quote from Sarah Ives in a National Geographic article: "Two historians say African American slaves may have used a quilt code to navigate the Underground Railroad. Quilts with patterns named "wagon wheel," "tumbling blocks," and "bear's paw" appear to have contained secret messages that helped direct slaves to freedom, the pair claim." I wonder why this was not part of the story? It would have made for a much more compelling tale, and because this use of quilts and symbols are fairly well known, I would think other readers would have been waiting for the same thing.*Jacqueline Tobin and Raymond Dobard Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad


    What was most disappointing about Tracy Chevalier’s story?

    Waiting for Chevalier to make the 'quilt code' part of the story.


    What did you like about the performance? What did you dislike?

    Didn't enjoy the narration all that much and the use of 'thy' and 'thee'. We got it that they were Quakers and this was distracting. Maybe it worked in the book, but not as an audio book.


    If this book were a movie would you go see it?

    Probably not, unless screenwriters super charged it.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Augusta Vancouver 03-24-13
    Augusta Vancouver 03-24-13 Member Since 2010
    HELPFUL VOTES
    12
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    "Great Story, Disappointing Narrator"

    I was engaged by the story of Honor Bright, a young Quaker woman from England in the 1850s who hastily decided to accompany her sister who was traveling to the US to be married. We learn that Honor's engagement had been broken in a difficult way (in her faith).

    This is not the type of book I would usually read - historical with a promise of romance, but I was intrigued by Honor and the unexpected troubles and difficult decisions she made after her sister died before reaching her fiancé.

    Themes of personal faith, community, slavery, individuality drew me in, and I cared for a few of the characters and how they would find their place and peace among it all.

    It may be that some would see Honor as a simple (in spirit and life) woman, but I believed she was a strong woman who was guided by her moral and spiritual beliefs, even when it set her apart from "the plain folk". I admired her tremendously and believed her to be stronger than most in the community did.

    It was a pleasant, easy read, and I did find it thought provoking as I considered what I would do in her situation.

    I was very disappointed in the narration though. It was quite inconsistent with the narrator not always using the same "voice" for the same characters. She also had a distracting habit of pausing in a peculiar pattern. It took about 3 hours for me to finally decide I'd keep listening because I was enjoying the story, and therefore I needed to try to just accept the narration as was.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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