>> Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
Genre: Middle Grade/YA Fiction
Series: #1 in the Seeds of America series
Publication Date: 2008
Challenges: Support Your Local Library #46
The Short Version:
The beginnings of the American Revolutionary War as told from the viewpoint of a young slave girl in New York.
Why I Read It:
I’ve heard such good things about the author's books that I wanted to read them and decided to start with her historical fiction books first.
Taking place between May of 1776 and January of 1777, the beginnings of the American Revolution are experienced by a thirteen year old slave.
Isabel and her younger sister Ruth were owned by a wealthy woman named Mary Finch in Rhode Island. Miss Finch had told Isabel that her will contained a provision that would grant Isabel and Ruth their freedom, but when Miss Finch’s nephew arrived to bury his aunt and settle her estate, he says there was no will and that Isabel and Ruth are now his property.
He takes the girls to New York where he and his wife live while supporting the British side in the revolution. The Locktons turn out to be the kind of owners who treat their slaves far worse than Miss Finch did. In fact, Mrs, Lockton is a rather cruel person. Isabel tries to cause no trouble out of fear that her younger sister will be unfairly punished. After a particularly awful turn of events, Isabel is desperate to get away from the Locktons and find a way to freedom.
While running errands as part of her duties, Isabel meets a young boy named Curzon who is a slave to a Patriot. Curzon encourages Isabel to share information she learns from the Tories at the Lockton home with the Patriots. In hopes that this will help her obtain her freedom (and Ruth’s) Isabel agrees to spy for the Patriots.
Caught between two sides of a revolution, Isabel seeks to gain freedom with the help of those seeking their own freedom from British rule.
Although I liked Anderson’s Fever 1793 well enough, it was targeted at a younger audience than I’d expected. This one is also targeted at a middle grade audience, but I found it to be more readable to an adult audience than Fever 1793.
I loved Isabel! She was a courageous, smart girl stuck in a situation with no clear way to find the best way out. Her previous owner had some unusual beliefs and so Isabel could read, but she was smart enough to not flaunt this ability.
The author did a wonderful job of portraying 1776 New York. Occupied by British Loyalists and the British army, the rebels both in and out of prison suffered. The conditions were terrible and even worse for slaves. Isabel had reason to believe promises from both British and Rebels that helping them could be her path to freedom, but she also had reason to mistrust both sides.
Ultimately it is her devotion to her sister and her sense of gratitude to Curzon that determine her actions.
I loved the way that the contradiction of the Americans fighting for their own freedom, yet denying that same right to their slaves is so well portrayed. Neither side could truly be trusted if you were a slave.
For a middle grade to YA book, I thought it was quite interesting and entertaining and I look forward to continuing with the planned trilogy. I’ll be requesting the second book (Forge) from my library soon.