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Monday, March 14, 2011

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

I love spring break – a chance to get caught up on my reading! Today I sat down and read (a truer account would be that I devoured) Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson. It’s been on my pile to read for a while, and I am so glad I finally picked it up. Her previous historical fiction novel, Fever 1793, is so good that I have to replace it on a yearly basis because it either gets worn out or simply not returned. Chains is just as good, with the same feeling of urgency within in. You root for the main character, Isabel, all while feeling her frustration and despair.

Summary: Having already suffered the loss of her mother a year earlier, Isabel finds herself, along with her little sister, Ruth, passed down as mere property when her owner passes away – despite the fact that there is a will that states that both girls are to be set free. The Spring of 1776 is an uncertain time in the colonies, and the lawyer who holds these vital papers is elsewhere, unreachable due to a military blockade.

Isabel & Ruth are quickly sold by this new master to a Loyalist family with a home in New York. Isabel, renamed Sal by her new owners, is placed in the dangerous position of spying on her master and his friends in order to help the Patriots. She is pulled into this world by Curzon, the young slave of a Patriot. Through the course of the story, the relationship between these two young slaves in a country fighting for its freedom develops from one of distrust to one in which one must depend on the other for survival.

Throughout the story, the reader feels for Isabel as she tries to protect Ruth, who is only five years old and suffers from “fits” (epilepsy), is punished for being “insolent” and tries to find a way to free herself and her sister. Isabel also becomes a hero to others, helping keep prisoners of war fed and alive in deplorable conditions. I often felt that I was holding my breath along with Isabel; afraid that she would be caught in one of her many dangerous excursions.

Halse has deftly woven her characters into the tapestry of history, creating a story that will have readers delving into the book to discover how Isabel’s story will end. But Chains is not the end of her story – I’ll be picking up Forge to see what happens next!


Age Appropriateness:
Grades 6 & up

Areas of concern (content):
Foul Language: none
Nudity/Adult Content: none
Violence: mild

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