Thirteen year-old Isabel looks forward to freedom for herself and her little sister, Ruth. When her owner dies, the promised release from slavery is nowhere to be found, and the girls are sold to a wealthy British couple in New York City.
Thus begins the 1776 historical fiction of Laurie Halse Anderson's Chains. I've enjoyed many of Anderson's books, and I wasn't disappointed by this novel. A strong main character and the historical backdrop of the American Revolution make it a suspenseful story.Thirteen year-old Isabel looks forward to freedom for herself and her little sister, Ruth. When her owner dies, the promised release from slavery is nowhere to be found, and the girls are sold to a wealthy British couple in New York City.
Thus begins the 1776 historical fiction of Laurie Halse Anderson's Chains. I've enjoyed many of Anderson's books, and I wasn't disappointed by this novel. A strong main character and the historical backdrop of the American Revolution make it a suspenseful story. Isabel starts work. They work hard from sun up to sun down, cleaning, washing, and polishing. Isabel is happy to get away from her owners, the Locktons, by fetching the water every morning and going to the market once a week. It gives her a chance to see the city and the people. New York coble stone streets are always crowded with people and solders. Talking and singing by the store fronts. Isabel is scared of all the solders and keeps her distance. The water pump is always bustling with slaves in the morning hours. She makes many new friends and learns the way of the town. She also hears all the latest war news and stories. War scares her,
In New York, Isabel is targeted by Revolutionaries who know that her new owners are British compatriots plotting against them. Isabel is asked to spy upon them. At first she believes this to be a undertaking, but circumstances convince her to become involved.
Isabel becomes a target of her new mistress as well, suffering occasional, brutal beatings. Ruth, who suffers from seizures, is sold away, fulfilling Isabel's greatest fear; losing her sister. Isabel's life consists of broken promises: no freedom as promised; Revolutionaries fail to help Ruth as promised; Revolutionaries fail to support Isabel when she is discovered as a spy. One of her main confusions: who is more likely to set her free, the British or the Revolutionaries? She discovers that neither is trustworthy, and she must depend upon herself to achieve her main objective: finding her sister, Ruth. When war breaks out, Isabel becomes a messenger for the colonial army, carrying messages on her daily morning outings to fetch water for her household. Her activities are dangerous and place her in great jeopardy. Finally, she has to make the most difficult decision a slave can make, facing the ultimate danger. As the main character, Isabel is a strong one. She is intelligent and knows when to submit and when to push back. So often, she struggles to control her emotions, understanding that it's better to "win the war, not the battle" with her slave-owners. Her emotions do overpower her in matters concerning Ruth. Isabel's an admirable character with a sense of determination. Curzon Bellingham is an older slave who works for the revolutionaries. He is the one who befriends and convinces Isabel to spy on her owners, the Locktons. At first, he seems like a secondary character, lurking in the background. But by the end, he is an important part of Isabel's life. Though he is a concerned for Isabel’s welfare, he can do to help her out of her situation. He's loyal and suffers as a prisoner at the hands of the British after he joins the Continental Army. Lady Seymour is the aunt of Isabel's British owner. She seems to understand the emotions of Isabel, and develops a gentle, relatively caring relationship with her. In the end, her silence helps Isabel. When Lady Seymour tells Isabel that she wanted to buy her, Isabel has mixed emotions: surely life with Lady Seymour would have been preferable and much better, but how can Isabel be happy about someone wanting to own her? Anderson is a wonderful storyteller. Her descriptions of the contrasts in the environments (at the water pump, the city prison, houses burning, graveyards, the mansion, etc.) are striking and detailed. She begins each chapter with a quote from a newspaper, letter, or journal of the times before, during, and after the war. Some of the incidents mentioned in the book are actual events, such as the burning of New York at the beginning of the war.
In the first-person point of view, the voice of Isabel is strongly represented. The young girl's thoughts are beautifully described. In this passage, in which Isabel is amazingly poetic in her despair: "The fire in my face burned on and on, deep through my flesh, scarring my soul. Stars exploded out the top of my head and all of my words and all of my rememberies followed them up to the sun, burning to ash that floated back and settled in the mud." Another one of my favorite quotes is: “She cannot chain my soul. Yes, she could hurt me. She'd already done so...I would bleed, or not. Scar, or not. Live, or not. But she could not hurt my soul, not unless I gave it to her.” Chains is a book I highly recommend for any reader. The book has won numerous awards including The National Book Award. It has incredible detail along with great characters and plot. Though fiction, Chains represents the struggle and determination of an inspiring young slave.