Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

ChainsTitle/Author: Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
Publisher/Year: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster Imprint) 2008
How I Got This Book: I bought it before I went to the LHA signing.
Why I Read This Book: My love for history, particularly the Revolutionary period, coupled with the fact that I really enjoyed Speak and reading LHA’s blog, I just had to read this one. I also, as a child, had a period where I read anything and everything I could get my hands on regarding slavery.
Rating: A well-deserved 4.5 stars!

I typically provide my own synopsis but every time I tried to write a compelling synopsis it fell short of the one written on Goodreads.

As the Revolutionary War begins, thirteen-year-old Isabel wages her own fight…for freedom. Promised freedom upon the death of their owner, she and her sister, Ruth, in a cruel twist of fate become the property of a malicious New York City couple, the Locktons, who have no sympathy for the American Revolution and even less for Ruth and Isabel. When Isabel meets Curzon, a slave with ties to the Patriots, he encourages her to spy on her owners, who know details of British plans for invasion. She is reluctant at first, but when the unthinkable happens to Ruth, Isabel realizes her loyalty is available to the bidder who can provide her with freedom. 

I need to divulge the fact that I don’t typically read Middle Grade fiction but I could not pass this one up. My fascination with history, coupled with the fact that my stepdad is a huge Revolutionary War buff (he even does the Washington’s Crossing reenactment every Christmas morning) and my childhood obsession to read everything ever written about slavery, made this novel a must read for me!

This book did not disappoint me in any way. I felt the shackles come out and bind me to this novel immediately; I knew I couldn’t put this down. What a thoroughly captivating novel with memorable characters and moments. Laurie Halse Anderson proves herself to be a masterful storyteller as she deftly weaves together an evocative fight for freedom through the eyes of Isabel, a Loyalist’s slave, and the history of a nation’s fight for freedom. The novel doesn’t openly “tsk tsk” the nation’s gross injustices on the slavery front but rather shows, through Isabel, the implications of such a practice and the glaring hypocrisy of a nation who wants to be free yet are not willing to release their slaves but want nothing more than for them to fight for their cause.

At certain points I forgot I was reading a novel meant for a younger audience. The perfectly paced adventure will hook younger readers (as I saw at the LHA event)  as well as adults but the impeccable writing and the complexities that lie within the heart of the story, as well as this period in history, will keep adults reading.  It was fun to read this book and then converse with my Revolutionary War genius stepfather  about the events that were happening in the novel only to learn even more about the particular event–e.g. the fire in New York City–not a spoiler as it is in the history books!

I really appreciated Anderson’s dedication to keeping the novel pretty much in line with the historical facts. I loved that she focused on the struggle between the Loyalists and the Rebels in New York City as it is an area that often gets overlooked and it really is quite compelling–as I learned further from my step dad. I found the inclusion of pieces from real documents and letters from this time period at the beginning of the chapter to be fascinating and was glad that she added them.

Isabel is a character that you will find yourself remembering for a long time to come. She’s strong, resilient and entirely loyal to the ones that she loves and cares for. Reading this book felt reminiscent of the feelings that I felt while reading Little House on the Prairie or Little Women as a child. I felt myself wholly transported to another time and side by side with Isabel in her fight. There were moments where I felt like Isabel wasn’t quite true to the times, either because of speech or questionable actions, but for the most part I felt like she was convincingly written.

The only thing I found to be irksome was the incredibly short chapters. I’d get really into the story and then I was jolted into a new chapter. However, I thought about the fact that this was written for a younger audience with a shorter attention span than mine and found that it was probably perfect for them and I just needed to deal with that minor inconvenience.

My final thought: Amazing! I don’t care if you don’t read MG or YA books, if you like a good historical novel–pick this up! It isn’t a wonder that the kids at the signing I went to were hanging on to every word that Laurie uttered and were completely enamored with this novel. It is compelling and the ending will leave you rushing out to by Forge! I think this would be an awesome novel to complement a social studies lesson on this time period.

Found this AWESOME video a kid made about the novel for what I’m guessing is a school project (listen to the words!):

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