Monday, November 18, 2013

Book Review: The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier

I was flipping through an issue of Ohio Magazine when I saw an interview of the author of this book. Since there was a large photo of the book cover, that was what I noticed first. You know how sometimes your mind skims things and tries to fill in the pieces, often misinterpreting them? Since there was an image of a woman in period clothes, since the word “Runaway” was in the title, and since the author’s last name was long and had “C H V plus some Es and an A” I assumed it was about Jennifer Chiaverini, whose books I have reviewed on this blog.

I realized my mistake right away, read the article, and learned that the book was set in Ohio (where I’ve lived all my life!), was about a quilter (I like to quilt!), and was set in the 1850s and dealt with slavery and the Underground Railroad (OK, not a personal connection but I have recently enjoyed reading books set during the Civil War). I hadn’t read any other books by Tracy Chevalier but I sought this one out and I’m very glad I did as I really enjoyed it.

The story is about Honor Bright, a young Quaker woman who has just emigrated to Ohio from England. Aside from having to get used to living in a new country with people she’s never met, she also questions the local Quaker’s views on slavery and their actions and reactions to it.

Since Tracy attended a Quaker camp as a child, she was familiar with their practices. She also attended Oberlin College in Ohio, so she had a personal history with the area. Both of these connections made the story feel more authentic. Another aspect that I enjoyed about this book is how the story is told as a third-person narrative but every chapter is sandwiched with a with a first person letter, usually written from Honor’s point-of-view.

Honor not only notices how different the Ohio flora and fauna is from her native country, but also the quilting styles. She is used to doing English Paper Piecing and patchwork, while the Quakers in Ohio seem to do a lot of red and green appliqué quilts. Honor thinks that the appliqué work is simpler and easier than what she’s used to doing although I personally haven’t made an entire quilt using traditional appliqué as I think it’s pretty difficult.  

It was interesting to find on Tracy’s website under the section about “The Last Runaway” that there are links to Pintrest boards that Tracy has set up with photos of examples of English, American, Red and White, and African American quilts.

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