Thursday, December 30, 2010

Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson

Title:  Chains
Author:  Laurie Halse Anderson
Publisher: Antheum
Pages:  320
Year:  2008
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Age Level:  6th Grade-10th Grade

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 Goodreads)

Laurie Halse Anderson does an excellent job in Chains painting a picture of just what freedom means, to a country and to an individual.  Perhaps there are other novels that combine the issues of slavery with Revolutionary War history, but if there are I doubt they do it as deftly as Anderson does.  Isabel's story provides a depth to the story of the start of the Revolutionary War that few other books, with their focus on the Patriots as good guys and British as bad guys, achieve.  Told from the slaves' perspective, the fact becomes clear that what "liberty" and "freedom" meant to the Patriots was not something that was extended to women, or to Africans.  In Madam Lockton, Anderson creates a truly despicable villian, and her malice towards Isabel creates a tension and suspense that makes the novel fly.  This is a great read for students studying the American Revolution-as a companion to non-fiction texts on that period in history I can see it leading to many interesting discussions with students.

Teaching Resources:
E-Notes for Chains 
Simon and Shuster Reading Guide 
Interview with Laurie Halse Anderson-ReadWriteThink  

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