Tracy Chevalier, The Last Runaway
A major turning point in the story of Honor Bright, the young Quaker woman at the center of Tracy Chevalier's fine 2013 novel The Last Runaway, comes very early. Jilted by the man she was pledged to marry, Honor decides to accompany her sister from England to America, where her sister plans to marry a man who has settled in a small frontier town south of Oberlin, Ohio. The year is 1850. But Honor gets seasick as soon as the ship leaves port and stays sick for the entire long voyage, She knows she can never put herself through that ordeal again, meaning she can never return to England.
Before getting to Ohio, however, her sister dies of disease, and Honor is stranded alone in a strange country. She continues her journey to Ohio and to the man who had expected to marry her more outgoing sister. Honor realizes that to survive in this tiny Quaker community, she must soon marry, but she is not drawn to this man, nor he to her. Besides, another woman, his brother's widow, already has her sights on him even before Honor finally arrives.
So many good women seem to be attracted to bad men, and such is the case with Honor. She yearns for Donovan, a tireless pursuer of runaway slaves who follow the Underground Railroad to Oberlin and then to Canada. She detests slavery and, in fact, assists Belle, Donovan's own sister, in aiding runaways, yet she can't stop wondering if she could change Donovan by marrying him. Even after she marries a more suitable Quaker man and has a baby girl, Donovan continues to occupy her thoughts. That is, until she herself becomes "the last runaway."
I love this novel. It may be Chevalier's best book since Girl with a Pearl Earring.