The Book Reviews – Website

December 19, 2010


Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson: Book Cover


Author: Laurie Halse Anderson

Page Length: 316

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Historical Fiction

Career Connection: Military service, undercover work

PLOT SUMMARY: The setting is the New England colonies, 1776; the characters are Isabel (13) and her younger sister, Ruth.  They are African American slaves whose mistress has just died.  They should be freed upon the declaration of her death, but their relatives choose to sell them to the Lockton’s who live in New York City and support the British Redcoats during the Revolutionary War.

Isabel is protective of Ruth, whom Madam Lockton uses as her “pet” to impress society friends from Britain.  Ruth suffers from epilepsy which Madam Lockton cannot understand.  The book covers an eight month time span where Isabel is separated from Ruth, beaten and branded, cooks and serves the soldiers of King George’s army, and spies for George Washington’s imprisoned patriots.

Her hope in life is built on the influence of Curzon, a young fellow slave, who is injured in the war and is housed at the local hospital; and, Lady Seymour, sister in law of the dreaded Madam Lockton.

Contrary to most African American slaves of the time period, Isabel can read. After reading Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, and being discovered as a spy, Isabel realizes that she must find freedom or die at the will of Madam Lockton.  She bids the severely ill Lady Seymour good-bye; then, returns to the hospital prison to rescue Curzon, in the hope that they can cross the water from New York City to the shore of New Jersey and travel to Atlanta to find Ruth.

REVIEW: I found this book interesting in its historical recalling of slavery in the northern New England colonies at the time of the Revolutionary War.  Written from Isabel’s point of view, I developed a sense of empathy for her as she related her feelings of loneliness and helplessness in the world of aristocratic hierarchy.  Unlike most slaves I have read about, the protagonist can read and is quite intellectual and informed for a 13 year old.

The author uses similes and metaphors frequently throughout the book. At the end of the book, an informative Appendix and a Reader’s Guide are included.  This would be an interesting class novel to read as a study of the Revolutionary War, slavery in the United States, or African American history.  The book would be appealing to girls who enjoy American history.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Sequence of Events, Recalling Details, Historical Context


RELATED BOOKS: Octavian Nothing, Forge


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


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