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Publisher's Summary

New York Times best-selling author of Girl With a Pearl Earring and At the Edge of the Orchard, 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.

Honor Bright, a modest English Quaker, 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, Honor is drawn into the clandestine activities of the Underground Railroad, a network helping runaway slaves escape to freedom, where she 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.

©2013 Tracy Chevalier (P)2013 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

“A rich, well-researched novel - it’s the story of one young woman becoming an American.” (NPR, All Things Considered)

“Well-told and engrossing.... With compelling characters and swift pacing, The Last Runaway adds a worthy new chapter to a story that has consumed generations.” (USA Today)

 “Irresistible.” (O, The Oprah Magazine)

What listeners say about The Last Runaway

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

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.

7 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

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.

4 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

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.

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Really did not care for the narrator

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

A different narrator.

What was most disappointing about Tracy Chevalier’s story?

The main character Honor Bright Haymaker was not as strong as some of her other female characters in her other books. Honor was just a bit too whiney for me to enjoy this book.

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

Nothing. Every sentence sounded like it ended in a question. Her accent for Honor was not consistent. I almost didn't finish the book because of her narration.

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

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.

2 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

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.

2 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Expected more from Chevalier

I've read several books by Tracy Chevalier and this is my least favorite. It is fairly shallow, given the fact that the subject matter could have lent itself to much more depth. Chevalier's previous books which factionalized artistic subjects were much more intriguing. There was an opportunity to do more with the quilt code, the historic relationship of the Amish to the Underground Railroad, and even the role of the women who put their lives and marriages on the line to help runaway slaves.

Perhaps the reason this book felt so shallow to me was the affected performance of Kate Reading. After a couple of chapters, I nearly gave up, but persevered, only to discover that the narrator never lost the affected tone and irritating habit of ending every sentence with an upward tilt to the voice like a question.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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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. However, "The Last Runaway" fell flat for me. 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. I finished listening to the whole thing, but I was relieved when it was over.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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disappointing

This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

If you enjoy endless descriptions of quilts and detailed descriptions of everything, you might like this book.

What could Tracy Chevalier have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

The characters were too stereotyped - the nearly perfect, meek and mild Hannah, the bawdy Belle with a heart of gold, the tempting bad boy. I was hoping for more underground railroad adventure, but this was rather dull and plodding. I liked the story well enough, but it seemed to drag, with way too much repetition of how wonderful Hannah was as a seamstress. It made Quakers seem dull and boring.

It was not clear at all why Hannah would be the least bit attracted to Donovan, so this could have been fleshed out more.

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

She seemed to use the same inflection on nearly every sentence, rising unnaturally at the end. It became annoying after awhile.

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

I don't think I would cut any scenes, necessarily, but I would eliminate some of the redundant descriptions.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A different view of slavery in US

There were people in America that did not support slavery. This story shares the view of people who helped slaves escape thru the underground railroad. A tender story of wanting a new live with an excellent narrator.