If an entire nation could seek its freedom, why not a girl?
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.
From acclaimed author Laurie Halse Anderson comes this compelling, impeccably researched novel that shows the lengths we can go to cast off our chains, both physical and spiritual.
An amazing historical novel!
By L. K. Messner on Oct 07, 2008
CHAINS by Laurie Halse Anderson tells the story of Isabel, a slave trapped in New York City in the early days of the Revolution. Sold to Loyalists when her former owner dies, she's offered the chance to spy for the Patriots. But does their talk of liberty really include her? What about the British, who promise freedom to slaves who join their fight against the rebels? This book is impeccably researched in a way that not only convinced me I was getting "the real deal" as far as the historical details are concerned but also transported me straight back into the 18th century. Some historical novels that have tackled this issue in the past have made it overly simple, but CHAINS is different. The historical context isn't simplified, the Patriot cause isn't glorified, and the characters are flawed, complex, and rich. As a reader and as a teacher, I am in serious book-love. As soon as I read the advance reader copy, I made plans to use this novel in my 7th grade classroom. CHAINS is a well-researched look at choices made by individuals during the Revolution, a coming-of-age story for a girl and a nation, and an absolute page-turner. It's everything that historical fiction ought to be.
By James Hiller on Feb 15, 2009
The heroine in Laurie Halse Anderson's gripping new middle level children's book, "Chains" is a thirteen year old slave named Isabel, headstrong, fierce in her determination to keep her epileptic sister Ruth with her, intuitive, and strong. What might fell the mightiest of people only serves to strengthen Isabel, time and time again, proving that determination was much needed during this turbulent time in our nation's history. "Chains" is the children's book of the year. It's that good. Anderson's blending of a slave story with the the Revolutionary War and the battle of New York creates a story ripe with possibilities and is fresh and new. At the beginning of the story, Isabel and Ruth attend the funeral of their former owner, thinking that a will would give them freedom. Alas, it was not to be. An unscrupulous relative sells off the girls to the first customers, a pair of England loyalists named Lockton, who transport the pair to their New York home to serve them. Immediately off the boat, Isabel befriends a spritely lad Curzon, who begs to employ her in the cause of the American Revolution, playing brilliantly on the fact that white society deemed black slaves to be invisible. Only wanting her freedom, Isabel promises nothing but soon delivers, after learning of a plot to kill General Washington. When that doesn't give her freedom, she begins to mistrust the patriots' cause, and learns of the British claim to ensure freedom to any slaves that would join up against the revolution. What makes this book novel is a slavery story set, not in the south, but New York City, which naturally leads to the discussion of how slavery was in our early history throughout the country and not just in one area. It also plays with the themes of which "side" in a war is the good side? Is there a good side or a bad side in a battle? We are taught that the British are the bad guys. Would you feel that way if you were a slave and could get freedom from them? Many events transpire in this amazing book, but just look at the themes that crop up so far: racial invisibility, the British as possibly the "good guys" in the Revolution, the horrors of slavery against the strength of the people who suffered under it. Any of these themes would be a rich discussion to have with kids. Books like these tend to make the history we all learned in school much more real, more deeper, than just a series of dates and numbers to remember. We forget that history is made up of stories, of sides, and "Chains" allows some gentle exploration of those themes. This is the first book I've read of Anderson. Her writing style is brief, fast paced, and complete. As a teacher, I appreciate the short chapters that pack a lot of story into a few pages. This would be an excellent read aloud book for any fourth grade classroom or higher, who are studying these issues in the class. I would love to use this book as a literature study, when it become available in paperback. And I'm now officially a fan of her work, and can't wait to delve into her other books. Why the Newbery committee passed this stunning novel up is beyond me. I've read the current winner of the Newbery, The Graveyard Book, and while I found it to be interesting and intriguing, in my opinion, Chains soars above and beyond this book. If you are a teacher, buy this book now. It's really that good.
A look at the Revolutionary War from an entirely new perspective.
By Dampscribbler on Nov 20, 2008
We all learned in school about Paul Revere, the Redcoats, and the writing of the Declaration of Independence. Laurie Halse Anderson's excellent "Chains" tells the story of a young girl, Isabel, and her little sister who lived as slaves during the same time. Isabel observes the twists and turns of the white men's governments while she seeks her own opportunity to regain the freedom that is rightfully hers -- not only were she and her sister legally freed upon the death of her original mistress, but Isabel knows in her heart, her soul, and her head, that there is nothing right about one person owning another. Isabel is a smart, likeable character. The wisdom which seems beyond her years is hard won as a result of her circumstances -- from learning to read as a "priveleged" slave to learning to keep her mouth shut in her new, cruel household. I highly recommend "Chains," and I look forward to the next title in what I hope will be a series of historical novels from the talented Laurie Halse Anderson.
Touching Historical Fiction
By Tammyjo Eckhart on Oct 26, 2008
For ages 10+ this is an intense account of slavery in pre-Independence times of the USA. Too often we think that slavery only got bad in the 19th century or that it was limited to southern plantations. That is not the truth. Nor is it the truth that every slave owner was evil or every slave an innocent suffering. Laurie Halse Anderson does an excellent job of showing the complexities of slavery in the life of one young slave (her age is never given), her mentally handicapped 5 year old sister, and those they must interact with to survive the challenge of war. If you are not familiar with the true nature of slavery you will find this book disturbing. The question and answer section at the end of the book answers a lot of questions you may have about this period in American history.
If you like historical fiction then Chains is likely right up your alley.
By Toobusyreading on Jun 20, 2014
If you like historical fiction then Chains is likely right up your alley. I thought this was a young adult novel but it was aimed at a younger audience. It would be an appropriate middle grade read for grades 5-8, but was so well written it could easily appeal to teens and adults as well. Chains is set at the start of the Revolutionary War. I
Chains (Seeds of America) By Laurie Halse Anderson - Book Review
By Pooja Sadhwani on Nov 24, 2013
Chains, a brilliant historical fiction book written by Laurie Halse Anderson tells the story of two enslaved girls, Isabel and her epileptic sister, Ruth. The book starts off with the two girls attending the funeral of their former owner who had just recently passed away, thinking that their master's will would give them the freedom that they deserve. However, a turn of events occur, and unfortunately an unscrupulous relative sells the girls off to the first customer who offers a decent price, a Loyalist couple from New York. When getting off the boat, Isabel meets Curzon, a slave to the well-known Patriot, Master Bellingham. Unlike most slavery-themed books, Chains takes place during the American Revolution, in 1776. During the revolutionary period, there were two sides: the Loyalists and the Patriots. Seeing that Isabel and her sister were auctioned off to serve the Loyalist couple, Curzon befriends Isabel and begs that she acts as a spy for the Patriots, in order to report any information that would be useful to them. In return, he ensured that she and her sister would eventually be free. At first she is weary of this plan, and disagrees. However, when later overhearing her master and his friends discuss about a plan to kill General Washington, she reports back to Curzon, who informs his master of everything. Over the span of many months, she overhears talks about the British ensuring freedom to the slaves who help in the war against the rebels. When not retrieving her freedom after giving the information to Curzon and his master, she quickly questions herself and her secret alliance to the Patriots, and immediately starts to change her mind. Throughout the book, the author portrays the characters in an absolutely outstanding manner. It was as if one was actually there in that time period with all of the characters. For example, she describes the main character as fierce, determined, and strong willed. These are common aspects of characters found in many books about slavery which are mostly used in order to portray a feeling of hope and optimism for the future. With her description of the character being so detailed it showed that the main character had been through a great deal of pain and hardship throughout the book. However, one thing that truly inspired me about the character was her will and determination to keep on going until the end, which was a constant theme in the book. Similarly to other books I have read about slavery, the main character starts out with the notion that if she works hard and diligently, her master will take a liking towards her and one day grant her freedom. However, to Isabel's dismay, Madam Lockton is brutal, and constantly tortures and abuses the girls. Anderson eloquently describes the treatment received to the two girls with descriptive words, feeling, and emotion. One specific event that struck me when reading the book was on page 148, when the author states "The man with the leather apron pinned my head against the wood. He stank of charcoal. I tried to pull away, but my hands and head were locked fast. The splinters chewed on me. Dandelions grew in the mud. The glowing iron streaked in front of my face like a comet. The crowd roared. The man pushed the hot metal against my cheek. It hissed and bubbled. Smoke curled under my nose." This part truly shocked me, as I did not know that branding was ethical and was used as a form of torture to slaves. Like many of her other books, the author masterfully writes the book in first person, and gives a voice to the teenage character, in this case being, Isabel, who undergoes different problems and changes in her life. However, despite all of these changes, she still has the courage and will to never give up, and has the audacity to always stay true to herself. All in all, her writing style is what kept the book intriguing, and what made me never want to put it down. When reading Chains, I was able to make many connections to books that I have focused on in my American Studies class. This quarter, we focused on topic of slavery and read the book: The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, by Frederick Douglass himself. Throughout the book, I could see a lot of comparisons between the two main characters, Douglass and Isabel, in the way that they act and feel towards their masters. There is one specific event that showed this, which occurred when Frederick Douglass stood up to Master Covey. Similarly, on page 134, Isabel stands up to Madam Lockton and confronts her about the situation with Ruth. The author writes: "I took another step. `Answer me, you miserable cow. Did you sell my sister?' Madam backed up a step. Her letter fluttered to the bottom of the stairs. Her ancestors hung silent. `Stay away from me,' she said. `Get back to the kitchen.'" With all of the elements of torture, misery, hardship, and feelings of hopelessness that the main character had to undergo, I would highly recommend this book to anyone studying slavery in school. It is quite an easy read, and eloquently describes the situation during that time period. While many of us study slavery as occurring after the American Revolution, this book is a twist as it shows the situation during the wars and tension of the American Revolution. The author even includes a reading guide at the end of the book, which provides a set of questions to make readers think deeper about the plot and helps to form great discussion sessions.
Plot and writing style well done, but characters are one-dimensional
By Amazon Customer on Nov 01, 2013
Written by Toki 8th Grader Chains is a Historical Fiction novel by Laurie Halse Anderson. Set in 1776 during the Revolutionary War this book begins in Rhode Island after a slave girls' owner has passed. Isabell and her younger sister are mourning the loss of their mother when they are inherited by a new owner who doesn't want them. Despite being freed in the will of their past owner, they are sold to Loyalists, the Locktons. Mrs.Lockton is cruel to her new slaves and Mr.Lockton is involved in a plot to assassinate General Washington. War, friendship, loss, and more collide in this tale. The plot of this book was far from lacking. The writing style is well done and the plot has the potential to be very interesting, pulling readers along. However, I was unable to enjoy this book because of the characters. Although the characters were not perfectly evil or perfectly good, they easily fit into those categories. Much of the book is focused around the main character and her thoughts and emotions. The problem with this was that Isabell was a simple, predictable character with predictable actions. My favorite character is Mr.Locktons' aunt. She had a certain depth that the others did not. She was well-meaning but had imperfections. I didn't this like this book. If it focused on the plot it would have been fine but it focused around a character one-dimensional. Though I found it hard to empathize with Isabell, I think she is very easy to understand. I don't think this book is overly useful to an African American Literature unit because it focuses on one specific character and her specific problems. However if the African American Literature unit wanted a simple, easy to understand book then this would be a good read.
Children in Bondage
By Jane E. Applebee on Nov 15, 2008
Chains was a deeply sad and interesting book about New York under siege and the lives of the people living there, in particular one young slave girl, Isabel Gardener, recently orphaned and trying desperately to protect her younger sister in their new master's household. While Laurie Halse Anderson paints the expected, a brave and noble slave child, she does not romanticize events or attempt to simplify the situation by choosing sides. There are no heroics, and only a deep stoicism rescues Isabel from madness at crucial moments. Isabel is living in a Tory household but works briefly as a spy for Rebels. Her loyalties tend toward the Rebels, but only because her only friend, another slave child, is working for them. The British and the Americans are shown as equally inhumane, as regards slavery. No one ever stands up for Isabel. The best Isabel gets is a bit of worthless pity now and then. The portrait of New York city at this historic time is confined to the daily walk Isabel takes to draw water and run errands. However, in the back of the book, Anderson elaborates on the factual information in a question and answer section, and there I found that New York was much smaller than I would have imagined, taking up just a small corner of the island, the rest still woods and swamp at that time. This is an excellent book for a mature 5th grader with a fairly high reading level. It is also great for middle-schoolers who will be studying the Revolutionary Era in depth in 8th grade. (I quite enjoyed it too, and I am 46.)
Toki 8th grade student review of Chains
By Jason E. Anderson on Nov 08, 2013
Chains is a historical fiction book. Isabel and her younger sister Ruth are slaves in 1776 Rhode Island when their mistress dies. Isabel believes they are to be free, as her mistress specified in her will. However, her mistress
The Trouble With Breaking Free
By Chris on Oct 18, 2010
I picked Chains up on a whim not knowing much about it. I'd read one of Anderson's other books (Speak) and really enjoyed it. This story is set in a wildly different era than Speak, but it still has some intriguingly similar traits. Chains drops us into the American colonies in 1776 and gives us a story from the point of view of a young slave girl. The writing is fresh and simple, yet also vibrant, descriptive and detailed. Part of me was expecting stylized writing and dialog similar to Mark Twain's treatment. While this writing doesn't have elements of negro/slave dialog, it does have other significant elements that lend to its realism. It's very evident that the author did a lot of research for this book. There are many simple little details that just make the scenes and events absolutely real. She also includes interesting historical epigraphs with each chapter that help set the tone. The story is fairly simple and easy to follow but what makes it great is the tension and emotion of the characters...Isabel in particular. We're taken inside the head of a very thoughtful, very emotional slave girl. Her life is turned on its head a number of times and she finds herself forced into bad situations again and again. Her internal debates really invoke a lot of thought about the nature of life in the late 1800s both in America and in the British Empire. I found myself very sympathetic to her dilemma and curious to see how (or even IF) she would be able to find some sort of happy resolution through all of her trials. This was a very quick read but well worth the time. The only down side was that I reached the end of the book only to find that it is part of a series which is currently in-process. Fortunately, the second book Forge is about to be released, so I can hopefully find out what happens to her. For anybody with an interest in American history, slavery, or just a fun youthful adventure, I can recommend this. If you're a big history buff, you may be discouraged at the lighter weight, but hopefully you'll find enough there to be entertained. **** 4 out of 5 stars