Sunday, March 8, 2009

Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson - powerful historical fiction

As our nation struggled for its freedom in the Revolutionary War, thousands of African American slaves wondered about theirs. If a nation could be free, what about them? In 1776, thirteen-year-old Isabel fought for her own freedom in the midst of war-torn New York. This gripping historical novel is well worth reading - for its dramatic story, the struggles of a young slave, and its depiction of war-torn New York.
Chains: Seeds of America
by Laurie Halse Anderson
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, c2008.
Brilliance Audio, c2008
ages 12 and up
Isabel and her sister were promised freedom upon the death of their owner, but no records were found of a will. Through a cruel sequence of events, Isabel and Ruth were sold by her owner's nephew to the Lockton family in New York. The Locktons were Loyalists and cruel slave owners. They cared little of the sisters' relationship, and ended up sending young Ruth far away.

Isabel's heart was broken - she lost her freedom, her home, and now her little sister. When a young slave, Curzon, asked her to spy on the Locktons, she did so - thinking that this might be the way she could claim her freedom. But the Revolutionary Army did not protect her, and she ended up being accused of insolence by Madam Lockton. Isabel was cruelly punished with the branding of an I on her face.

The audiobook for Chains is amazing. Madisun Leigh, the narrator, brings alive the thoughts and feelings of young Isabel. I think audiobooks work especially well for first-person stories; Chains pulls the reader and listener into Isabel's plight, and shows the mental and physical horrors of slavery.

This would definitely be a great choice for family listening - it would provide lots to talk about, and would engage adults and teenagers. One caution: Isabel's branding and Curzon's time in jail are intense - I would not recommend this for children under 10.

Chains won this year's Scott O'Dell Award for historical fiction, and was a finalist for the National Book Award. Ms. Anderson also won this year's American Library Association Margaret Edwards Prize, in acknowledgement of her work for young adults.

Find it at the Berkeley Public Library and the Oakland Public Library. You can find the audiobook at Amazon or at

Learn more about Chains from Laurie Halse Anderson's website:

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