I have just finished a novel – a good book with a great story to tell, but one which I found a little uncomfortable to read. You see, there was so much in it that I identified with, so much that felt painfully close to my own heart. Perhaps that is what made it a good book. Perhaps discomfort when reading a book can be a sign that it is doing exactly what it is meant to do…
The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier tells the story of a young Quaker girl, Honor Bright, who travels to America with her sister to make a new life, and finds herself caught up with the Underground Railroad. Her new life forces her to uncover what happens when the lines between right and wrong become messy, when your choice to act on your principles might endanger the very people you care about most, and yet the choice to abandon those principles might do the same in a very different way. Here in the UK, we face this kind of choice less often, and yet we still find ourselves torn between different versions of ‘right’ all the time. The first lesson I learnt from this book was that integrity is everything: there is no point abandoning your beliefs in the name of safety or comfort, because in abandoning them you are betraying your very self, your soul. Nothing is worth that. But along with this lesson comes the realisation, the remembrance, that sometimes the choices we – and particularly others in less stable parts of the world – are faced with are messy, hard and rarely without sacrifice.
The novel is also a story about roots, identity, home and belonging. It is about finding the secret of accepting yourself and upholding your values whilst accepting and valuing other people who are different to you. About being able to remember what is good and lovely about past places and people and still celebrate what is good and lovely about the present places you find yourself in. About finding a sense of belonging with people whose ways are different and diverse, and forging new friendships and family in the wake of loss.
We’re all making hard choices every day. Choices about being true to who we are – or not; choices about doing what we know is right – or not; choices about making the best of our situation – or not. Hard choices, but important ones.
So thank you, Tracy Chevalier, for your uncomfortable novel, and for making me think about my own choices.
8-9 Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.
A quote from Philippians 4: 8-9, The Message version of the Bible