Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains is a historical novel in which the reader experiences slavery through the eyes of a thirteen-year-old girl named Isabel. As the Revolutionary War begins and America starts to fight for freedom, Isabel and her younger sister Ruth are sold to a Loyalist (pro-England) couple in New York City. In the city, her cruel master separates Ruth from Isabel. From that moment on, much of the plot is driven by Isabel’s deep longing and hope for being reunited with Ruth.
In my history classes I have learned about the evils of slavery; however, when they are witnessed through the eyes of a teenage girl, they become so much more powerful and personal. For example, history textbooks talk about slaves being branded, but when Isabel undergoes the excruciating pain of the hot metal pressed against her cheek, you the reader cannot help but cringe in horror. How could people have done that to a thirteen-year old girl?
This is just one of the many examples in which Isabel experiences the hardships of slavery, injustice, and loss, yet she remarkably maintains hope. I loved this book because its gripping plot described Isabel’s personal struggle for freedom while simultaneously describing our nation’s battle for independence. I admire Isabel’s strong will and determination, which allow her to continue to hope and love despite her horrific situation.
Another reason I appreciate Chains is that every chapter begins with a historical quote. Each quote comes from various leaders of our nation (e.g., Thomas Jefferson) or from important documents that were circulated at the time (e.g., Common Sense by Thomas Paine). The author brilliantly weaves those famous excerpts into the chapter as Isabel experiences them in real time.
Chains is the first book in The Seeds of America trilogy. In the rest of the series (Forge and Ashes), Isabel, Ruth, and a loyal friend named Curzon must depend on each other as they endure the war, separation, and ultimately fight for their freedom. I highly recommend this book and the rest of the trilogy!
Learn more about the book: