The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier. I have read other books from Ms. Chevalier and was impressed by her ability to build a sense of time and place and highlight the various struggles women have faced. I was intrigued when I saw that The Last Runaway was a 2013 Ohioana Book Award winner for fiction set in Ohio. As with other titles from Chevalier, you learn a little about quilting along the way. Who knew how important a collection of handmade quilts were for young women looking to marry? The plot revolves around Honor Bright, a Quaker from England, who traveled to Oberlin, Ohio with her sister. When her dear sister dies on route, Honor is forced to rely on strangers in the harsh landscape of 1850 Ohio. She meets a suitable Quaker man; they marry and live at his family’s farm, on the outskirts of town. Almost immediately, Honor becomes aware of runaways navigating their way north in the woods adjacent to the farm. Her upbringing and religious beliefs compel her to join the Underground Railroad network to help runaway slaves escape to freedom. However, her new family strongly objects due to the new Fugitive Slave Act. She is forbidden to help more slaves, but is moved time and again to assist them. Her efforts do not go unnoticed, forcing Honor to make tough decisions about her marriage, her faith and her personal safety. I hope you enjoy this one as much as I.
For those of you who have an e-Reader, enjoy stories about women, and have an interest in history, I would like to recommend “The Book Borrower” by Alice Mattison. A book within a book, this novel’s two storylines center on the friendship of two contemporary women and the labor movement in the 1920’s. I was first attracted by the book’s historical storyline which includes events revolving around a trolley car strike and a heroine fashioned in the image of Emma Goldman. Gussie Lipkin, a working class, Jewish girl becomes involved with the labor movement and actively supports striking trolley car workers. Tragedy occurs when scab workers operate the trolley line; a young girl is killed and Gussie is accused of the crime. The victim is Gussie’s own little sister. Prior to reading “The Book Borrower” I didn’t realize that trolley car strikes in the early 20th century resulted in deaths and hundreds of injuries. I was intrigued by the history lesson, but I found that the long term modern-day friendship of Deborah and Toby held my interest even more.
The release of three young women held in captivity in Cleveland encourage me to recommend “Room” by Emma Donoghue. If you want to get a better sense of what the three young women in Cleveland might have experienced you will want to read “Room”. The story is told from the perspective of five-year old, Jack, who has lived his entire young life in the “room”. It can be a little difficult to grasp Jack’s storytelling style due to his severely restricted perspective. Ordinary objects and activities take on surreal importance to this boy who knows so little of the real world. The only things that are real to Jack are what the Room contains. I was so moved by the courageous and clever strategies that “Ma” used to protect her son from the horrible truth that they are prisoners; that he was the product of rape. “Ma” works hard to stimulate her son mentally, and alleviate the monotony and hopelessness of their situation. But release and freedom bring new issues and hurdles. For the three young women in Cleveland, the fight has just begun.