Sunday 11 September 2011

CHAINS by Laurie Halse Anderson. Review by Sue Barrow.

I came across Chains while I was researching the subject of child slavery.
I wanted to understand what life was like for a child captive, with no freedom to make her own choices and abused in the most terrible way by adults. This book delivered in every way, telling me all I needed to know and a lot more besides. Chains is one of those remarkable books which succeeds in educating and engaging at the same time.

In summary the year is 1776. The American War of Independence is moving on apace. Isabel and her young sister Ruth live as slaves in Rhode Island. When their owner dies, instead of granting them the freedom they were promised, her greedy nephew sells the girls off to the Locktons, a wealthy Loyalist and his cruel wife. They go with them to New York City where Isabel immediately befriends a young slave named Curzon. She is horrified when he suggests that the quickest route to gaining her freedom is to spy on her
master and report what she knows to the Patriots.

But Isabel has other problems too. Ruth is prone to fits and Isabel spends
much of her time trying to hide this from her mistress. When Ruth’s condition
is eventually revealed, she is considered devil-possessed and to Isabel’s
consternation, sold on.

Becoming increasingly involved with the conflict through her friendship with
Curzon, Isabel now finds herself on a dangerous mission and facing a moral
dilemma: which side - Loyalist or Patriot – can she trust to help win her
freedom and find her sister?

If you enjoy historical fiction this book forces you to confront the hidden issues
behind the American Revolution - racial tension, the invisibility of slaves and
the horrors of the treatment meted out to them by both sides. Each chapter
starts with a brief contextual extract from letters, diaries and newspapers of
the time and the book ends with a question and answer interview with the
author, confirming its historical accuracy and helping the reader distinguish
fact from fiction.

I can thoroughly recommend Chains. Through the voice of Isabel readers will
have no trouble imagining themselves in 1776 America, but the language is
far from dry or difficult to understand. Ideal reading for older children as well
as invaluable research material!

Chains: Bloomsbury 2010
ISBN 978-0-7475-9806-0
300 pages £6.99



Elen C said...

I love this book too, Sue. I can't wait for the sequel (due Spring 2012, I believe).

Sue Barrow said...

Elen - it's been available in paperback since January I discovered today!

Sue Purkiss said...

I hadn't heard of this book before; definitely one to look out for! Thanks, Sue.

Sue Barrow said...

Yes, this blog is great for passing on recommendations isn't it? I'd never heard of LHA until I came across Chains. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did Sue.

Espana said...

I really enjoyed this story of a plucky, resilient girl whose (deceased) parents were African slaves and whose freedom is not granted as promised when her current owner dies in Rhode Island. She and her younger sister are sold to new owners and must follow them to New York City, which is being torn between rebel American sympathizers and Tory/British loyalists.

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