Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
Series: Seeds of America #1
Genre: YA, historical fiction
Published on October 21, 2008
Published by Atheneum
Read From: 4.20.12 - 4.22.12
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.
It has been so long since I have read a fairly recently written book set during the Revolutionary War this good. I had my doubts about this book at first - indeed, it took me a long time to actually get around to reading it. Books written in recent years that have to do with slaves always seem to get preachy and smear the names of the Founding Fathers. I didn't expect anything different from this one.
I was dead wrong. Chains isn't a book solely written to teach kids to hate the Founding Fathers, and it isn't a book written to teach kids that slavery was somehow unique to the United States. It's an exciting adventure set during the War for Independence with a strong and intelligent protagonist. The Author does, of course, mention the horrors of slavery - it's pretty hard not to when one's main character is a slave, - but it doesn't go into a rampage. The Author's slave characters all also have a very balanced view on the war. It's true that slaves were caught in the middle during the Revolution. On one side, they had the English promising them freedom if they ran away from their masters, but very few slaves actually got the English to keep their promise. And on the other side, they had the Patriots who weren't openly promising them freedom, but many slaves knew that the Patriots' ideals would eventually lead to freedom - which it did. And the Author has slave characters that express both viewpoints. She also successfully portrays that while Tories did horrible things to the Patriots, the Patriots also did some horrible things to the Tories. In short, I saw no one-sidedness in this story. Isabel meets white people who are cruel and white people who are kind.
Isabel, as the protagonist, is a very good character. Strong, resourceful, and protective of her little sister. Isabel loses her temper at times, but the Reader can hardly blame her, and in truth when she did lose her temper, I was relieved. Lady Lockton is one of the cruelest female villains I've read about, so when Isabel got back at her for something Lady Lockton did, I was more than satisfied, even though I knew it wouldn't go well for Isabel. It was just satisfying reading about Lady Lockton getting some of her own medicine. And while Isabel has indecision about which side of the war to be on, it's entirely understandable why she's unsure who to trust, and in the end she does make a decision.
Chains is a perfect choice for those Readers who are looking for a recently-written story set during the Revolutionary War that is just a good adventure and not a preach against the Founding Fathers and trying to say that the Revolution wasn't about what we think.
Others in the Seeds of America Series: