Tracy Chevalier, author of "Girl With a Pearl Earring," sets her new novel in the United States during the 19th century. Here's how it begins:

She could not go back. When Honor Bright suddenly announced to her family that she would accompany her sister Grace to America -- when she sorted through her belongings, keeping only the most necessary, when she gave away all of her quilts, when she said goodbye to her uncles and aunts, and kissed her cousins and nieces and nephews, when she got into the coach that would take them from Bridport, when she and Grace linked arms and walked up the gangplank at Bristol -- she did all of these things with the unspoken thought: I can always come back. Layered beneath those words, however, was the suspicion that the moment her feet left English soil, Honor's life would be permanently altered.

At least the idea of returning drew the sting from her actions in the weeks leading up to their departure, like the pinch of sugar secretly added to a sauce to tame its acid. It allowed her to remain calm, and not cry as her friend Biddy did when Honor gave her the quilt she had just finished: a patchwork of brown, yellow and cream diamonds pieced into an eight-point Star of Bethlehem, then quilted with harps and the running feather border she was known for.