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Review: Chains, Laurie Halse Anderson

Isabel and her sister Ruth have been slaves their entire lives.  On the eve of the American Revolution, their owner dies and sets them free in her will.  But because of the turmoil, no one bothers to find the lawyer or read the will, so Isabel and Ruth are inherited and sold to a cruel Tory family who lives in New York.  There Isabel tries her hardest to free herself and her sister just as her country tries to free itself from British rule.  After all, if a country can be free, why can’t two little girls?

Slavery during the American Revolution isn’t something we always think about.  There is so much going on in the period that I think we tend to get excited about Americans winning our independence from Britain and completely ignore the fact that we chose to keep thousands of people enslaved at the same time simply because of the color of their skin.  Laurie Halse Anderson rightly points out how utterly wrong this was by writing this compelling tale of two sisters who are legally free but trapped because white people simply don’t care and don’t want to bother finding out the truth.

Anderson is a master at creating characters’ voices and I just adored Isabel’s, who is the narrator of this story.  I felt for her the whole way through the book and I really, really wanted her to win freedom for herself and her sister.  Her every failure broke my heart, especially when it wasn’t her fault.  She’s just a child and that really becomes clear – it’s horrible how she’s treated.  Somehow, though, this book is more readable than many books about slavery.  Even though Isabel suffers, she doesn’t get beaten down.  She has a fantastic spirit and I think it enlivens the whole book because hope remains in the darkest times for her.

It also speaks to Anderson’s talent that she took an era in which I have relatively little interest, for whatever reason, and make it the background for an utterly compelling book.  I had never known that the British promised freedom to the slaves to get them on their side, for example.  I’ve only ever read one book set in New York City at this time, The Tory Widow by Christine Blevins, and I was intrigued by the parallels and differences told by each author.

I thought Chains was a fantastic work of YA historical fiction.  It’s compelling, readable, and haunting.  I can’t wait for the sequel, Forge, and just wish it was out now!

I am an Amazon Associate. I borrowed this book from my local library.

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14 comments to Review: Chains, Laurie Halse Anderson

  • I’ve been meaning to read this one. I have read two of Anderson’s books–Speak and Fever 1793, of which I enjoyed the latter more. Not sure why, but Speak wasn’t as good as I had expected. Regardless, she is a great YA author.
    .-= Stephanie´s last blog ..The Sunday Salon =-.

  • Oh, this does sound very interesting. I recently bought a copy of one of her early novels (Speak) and I am excited to read it. As a matter of fact, I have heard a lot of good things about all her books! I had not yet heard of this one, but it does sound like something that I would really find absorbing. I recently read a book about slavery from a young girl’s perspective, and it would be interesting to see how these books differ. Great review!
    .-= zibilee´s last blog ..Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman – 368 pgs =-.

  • Wow! I bet this is amazing. I’ve only read one of Anderson’s books and thought it was fantastic, so I’m really interested in reading this book.

  • This sounds like a really great premise for a book, though I am worried about a comparison with The Tory Widow, which I really didn’t like at all. Do you mean that they are just set in the same place or is the storytelling similar?
    .-= Aarti´s last blog ..Review: The Sparrow =-.

    • Meghan

      Just that they’re set in the same place – the storytelling is totally different! I couldn’t think of any other book I’d read set there specifically.

  • I have to read this! I just know I’d love it. Great review!
    .-= Julie P.´s last blog ..Review: Motherhood is Murder =-.

  • Like you, I prefer a different era (mine is the thirties), but I’ve been experiencing a growing interest in the Revolution. Such a cast of characters! And haunted by slavery.

  • I remember wanting to read this book really badly when it came out, but then I forgot about it. The recent Carnegie nomination was a reminder – as was your review! It sounds like something I’ll love.

  • I’m planning on reading this one as part of my aim to read all of the Carnegie shortlist before the winner is announced :) Really looking forward to it now as well.
    .-= Darren @ Bart’s Bookshelf´s last blog ..Review: Lost at Sea by Bryan Lee O’Malley =-.

  • Considering that politicians and other people are always yammering about the Founding Fathers, it is strange that there’s not a lot of novels set during that era. Maybe you’ve found a new time period to be passionate about!
    .-= heidenkind´s last blog ..Author Fan Letter Blog Crawl =-.

  • I have this on audio to listen to someday. I loved Wintergirls and am anxious to read more by her.

  • I’ve only read one of Laurie Halse Anderson’s book so far (Fever 1793) this was already the next of hers that I planned to read. Thanks for such an interesting review. It really makes me want to read it that much sooner.
    .-= SuziQoregon´s last blog ..Wordless Wednesday #32 =-.

  • I was won over by Anderson’s Wintergirls and really must read more her work. I’ll put this on the list with Speak and others.
    .-= Beth F´s last blog ..Thursday Tea: The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano =-.

  • Hi, I’m Melissa, I am reading this book currently for school (5th grade). I’m reading this book right now for my Novel Group at school. So far, it is a wonderful book! I would love to read her other books too! I sometimes think that this book is kind of boring, but when I have to keep reading it for my assigments, I jump back in to it and won’t put it down! This book is a beauty in disguise! I would never had picked up this book if I saw it at a book store. My teacher and the other teachers, have given me and the other kids in my Novel Group an amazing experience. BTW, your review for the book is amazing, you get it all in there without letting big information go, like some things I wont say.