By Laurie Halse Anderson
Cover image retrieved from
Anderson, Laurie Halse. 2008. CHAINS. Atheneum. New York. ISBN-13: 978-1416905851.
After Isabel and her sister Ruth spend a relatively happy early childhood with their mother as servants in Maryland, they are sold away to be slaves in Manhattan in 1776. Unbelievable cruelty and hardship await, made bearable only by Isabel’s determination to get away, reunite with Ruth, and live life on her own terms. Resolved to maintain her dignity while struggling through trials, Isabel finds her inner strength challenged by circumstances well beyond her control, as freedom remains just out of her reach, as well as the reach of the Patriots in the city around her.
The title says it all. This gripping novel weighs heavily on the reader throughout this very personal account of Isabel, a slave in Revolutionary Manhattan. Though her family has been in bondage her whole life, her early childhood was relatively happy. This tranquil time comes to a close when first her mother, then her mistress dies. Sent to a relative of the mistress, Isabel and the reader are crushed by the cruelty that awaits her. Anderson weaves a powerful narrative that engages the reader, bringing the unspeakable inhumanity Isabel endures straight to the reader’s heart.
Events of the American Revolution serve as a backdrop for the story. Details are painfully accurate. Isabel routinely questions herself as to how she fits in the overall scheme of this talk of freedom. Whom should she trust? Would any white person really allow a black to be free? Why shouldn’t she be as free as they? Heart-wrenching details of her thoughts, misconceptions, fears, hopes, and dreams reveal a complex, yet very personable character. The reader roots for her in situations small and large, sharing her worries and her determination. The evils she faces are historically accurate, in the feelings and events of the Tories versus the Patriots, whites versus blacks, men versus women, children versus adults. Just as these times were a turbulent period in our country’s history, turbulence, wrapped in chains, binds the reader to our resolute heroine.
Well researched and affecting in its presentation, the story offers readers a fresh look at the conflict and struggle of a developing nation. -- School Library Journal
Anderson explores elemental themes of power (“She can do anything. I can do nothing,” Isabel realizes about her sadistic owner), freedom, and the sources of human strength in this searing, fascinating story. The extensive back matter includes a documented section that addresses many questions about history that readers will want to discuss. -- Booklist *starred review*
Anderson’s novel is remarkable for its strong sense of time and place and for its nuanced portrait of slavery and of New York City during the Revolutionary War. —Hornbook
“...fast-moving, emotionally involving plot.”—Publishers Weekly *Starred review*
"Chains" offers a perfect springboard for classroom discussion and history lessons. But don't dismiss it as academic fodder. Battle scenes and politics, heroic acts and secret plots fill its pages, making it as exciting for readers who prefer action (as do many boys) as it is inspiring for those more drawn to stories about people and relationships (as girls often are).” — Christian Science Monitor
Awards & Honors:
IRA Teachers' Choices booklist for 2009
Selected by Indie Booksellers for the Winter 2009 Kids' List
2008 Booklist's Editors Choice-Books for Youth
2008 National Book Award Finalist
2009 Top 10 Black History Books for Youth
2009 Notable Children's Book
- · The questions Isabel raises about her rights for freedom are resonant of Sojourner Truth’s voice, half a century later. Pair Chains with Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech, given at The Women’s Convention, Akron Ohio, 1851. Access Alfre Woodard reading the speech at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vr_vKsk_h8 or read the text at http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/sojtruth-woman.html
- · Research the role of slaves in the American Revolution. Did the victory by the Patriots have a positive, negative, or neutral effect on slavery?
- · Find out more about the link between the American Revolution and slavery. Two of our first three Presidents were slave owners. Find our more about George Washington and Thomas Jefferson’s views on slavery at http://www.mountvernon.org/learn/meet_george/index.cfm/ss/101/ and http://www.monticello.org/site/plantation-and-slavery/thomas-jefferson-and-slavery
- · Check out Laurie Halse Anderson’s amazing website at http://madwomanintheforest.com/historical-chains/
Ms. Anderson provides her playlist of the late 18th century, links to over a dozen authoritative sites with more information about the 18th century and the American Revolution, a bibliography of over two dozen books and numerous articles, a comprehensive teacher’s section, and a preview of the sequel to Chains, entitled Forge.
- · Other books by Laurie Halse Anderson:
Young Adult Fiction:
Fiction for Young Readers:
The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher Goes to School
Vet Volunteer Series
Nonfiction for Young Readers
Thank You Sarah!