The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier

The Last Runaway

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier   is available as one of the Gold Coast Libraries’ book club kits.

**Please be aware that book discussion questions may contain spoilers**

Hurt and humiliated, when her fiancé runs off with another woman, highly accomplished quilter Honor Bright accompanies her sister Grace to America. Grace is to be married to fellow Quaker Adam Cox, who lives in Faithwell a small Quaker town in Ohio.  When Grace dies of Yellow Fever within days of landing in New York, Honor continues the journey to Ohio.  Stopping along the way she meets Belle, a milliner in need of a seamstress and her brother Donovan a disturbing individual who relishes his job of catching runaway slaves. It is at Belle’s house that Honor meets her first runaway slave and becomes aware of the role The Underground Railway plays in assisting runaways.  A few days later Adam Cox and his widowed sister-in-law arrive to collect Honor and take her to Faithwell.  But Honor finds it hard to settle there, finding the Quaker community both unwelcoming and critical even after she marries a member of their community.  And it is not long before Honor is in conflict with her husband and his  family over her growing desire to help the runaway slaves that pass through Faithwell on their journey to freedom.

Written predominately in third person narrative, there is a certain quietness in the rhythm of this book which I found really enjoyable. I was left with an image of a quiet and courageous young woman, who made realistic compromises that an immigrant woman unable to ever return home would make.  Interesting aspects included details about quilting (in particular the differences between English and American quilting)  and some of the social customs in the Quaker community.

If you enjoy Historical Fiction, an introduction to The Underground Railway from the perspective of everyday ordinary people who were a part of it, the importance of friendship  and conflict arising from conscience versus faith along with a good dollop of Quilting, I can safely say that you will enjoy reading this book.

Discussion questions:

1. Some reveiwers stated the reading experience could be improved if Chevalier added a few extra pages of historical detail about subject matter such as The Underground Railway and Quilting at the end of the book? What are your reactions to this criticism? and what are your impressions of this book?

2.  When Honor first meets Donovan she finds him brutish and belligerent.  Do you think there was a chance for Honor and Donovan to have a real romantic relationship?   And if so what changes do you think both would have needed to make to ensure its success?

3. The Fugitive Slave Act had harsh penalties for anyone caught offering assistance for runaway slaves.   What risks would you be willing to take for a cause that you feel is important?

4. Quilting plays an important role in the novel. On the first page Honor gives her eight-point Star of Bethlehem quilt away to her friend Biddy and keeps the signature quilt that her local Quaker community has made for her.  In Faithwell, Honor debates the quality of the American Quaker quilts with English Quaker quilts.  What do you think the differences in style say about the Faithwell Quaker community?

5.  The novel ends with Honor and Jack making the decision to head west to Wisconsin. How do you envision the rest of Honor’s life will turn out?

Helpful links:

Author’s official website

Reviews on Good Reads

LitLovers discussion questions