by Laurie Halse Anderson published by Simon & Schuster
Once you read Chains, it will be etched in your mind forever. Taking place during the beginning of the American Revolution in New York, Chains is one of those rare books of historical fiction to cherish, savor and hold on to. Laurie Halse Anderson has accomplished an intricate literary shaping of Isabel Gardner and Madame Lockton, realistically memorable, one dear the other hateful. You will love Isabel as the devoted sister of little Ruth and an insolent slave to Madame. You will loathe the cruel and inhumane way that Madame Lockton treats Isabel and parades Ruth as if she is a trophy.
Metaphorically, the book’s title Chains represents a figurative chain of oppression that denies the colony’s their liberty by the laws enacted by the British Parliament. Isabel is also chained to Madame as her slave. While the colonies are at the mercy of the King, so too is Isabel at the mercy of her cruel owner. Isabel learns that her freedom has no side but her own self preservation. She will aid either Patriot or Loyalist as long as they can help her to break though the chains.
Anyone who loves historical fiction and American History will not want to pass this book up. Chains would be an ideal novel to supplement the American History curriculum for grades 4-8. Students and teachers may also read this book and decide to research further one of the many events or conditions that took place, for example; Great Fire of 1776, population of slaves second highest in the colonies in mid 1700s, and treatment of prisoners.
Laurie Halse Anderson has a poetic gifted writing style with an amazing allure that I find myself rereading passages again and again. Throughout the book Isabel’s moods are depicted by a reference to bees.
“ Melancholy held me hostage, and the bees built a hive of sadness in my soul. Dark honey filled up inside me, drowning my thoughts and making it hard to move my eyes and hands.” (157)
Perhaps this is one of the reasons Chains was nominated for the National Book Award on October 15, 2008. I for one believe it is well deserving of this honor.
Also reviewed on Picnic Basket Blog