Book Title: The Last Runaway
Author: Tracy Chevalier
What we liked about the book
Tracy Chevalier is well known for her ability to weave art, history, religion and society into a beautiful and simply told story. The Last Runaway features an innocent Quaker woman, Honor Bright, as the main character. The book follows Honor on her journey of discovery as she migrates from England to America in the 1850s. Honor changes from an inexperienced young woman into a more mature and confident person. She discovers a lot about herself in a short period of time because she has to face leaving her home and family, the death of her beloved sister, marriage, independence and the challenge of balancing principles, consequences and survival in a harsh environment.
The story was well researched and painted a vivid picture of the countryside and people during the pre-Civil War years in America. We liked the descriptions of the times, farm work and quilting.
The Quaker religion was described in the book and the fact that Quakers have played a significant part in the abolition of slavery, equal rights for women and peace was of interest. Some of our members thought that the Quaker practice of silence was similar to contemporary meditation practices. It must have been difficult for those peace-loving people to have to compromise their principles because of the terrible consequences they faced at that time, like the death of the Haymaker father through trying to help the runaway slaves.
We liked the character of Belle and the creativity, friendship and courage she demonstrated. We also liked Mrs Reed for her bravery and wisdom. Honor was fortunate to have these women in her life and we thought she learned a lot from them about the importance of helping people and being true to yourself.
If we had any criticisms about the book it was that some plot devices were a bit clumsy and the ending seemed somewhat contrived. We would have liked to know more about the 'Underground Railway' and the history of the time.
We thought the ending that described Honor as 'running toward instead of away' from her future was indicative of her coming to terms with her new life in a new country.
On another literary note, one of our members (Anne Houghton) who is a local resident, lecturer and consultant has published a new book Intentional Teaching. This is a resource for early childhood teachers to help them balance a discovery model (where the children demonstrate interest and curiosity in a topic) with thoughtful design to introduce children to new ideas, experiences or objects.