Today's Grateful List/31 December 2015

  • Going to get answers no matter what

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

I'll preface this review with the cool fact that I met Laurie Halse Anderson a few years ago when our then librarian was able to convince her to come to our school (Croft Middle) to speak to small groups of students. She did the neatest little activity with the kids--she had them randomly list some words and then tell them they could make a story out of them. I loved it. She's a nice, personable lady, and if I hadn't already liked her before, I was really impressed after I saw her in action.
I scooped up Anderson's newest novel, Chains, when our now librarian received it as an ARC a couple of weeks ago. I don't think I've ever been disappointed in a book by Anderson, and this one is no exception. Set during the Revolutionary War, we meet Isabel, an 11 year old (I think) slave who has hopes that she and her younger sister Ruth will be set free as promised upon the death of their mistress. Instead, the mistress's scurrilous nephew not only refuses to free the sisters, he almost immediately sells them to a thoroughly disagreeable woman from New York City. Thus Isabel and her "simple" sister find themselves at the mercy of a mean Loyalist; orphaned and far from home, Isabel plots how to escape while dodging her mistress's hand and insults. Added to her circumstances is Isabel's worry over her little sister's "fits", and this worry is not unfounded; when the mistress discovers Ruth in a spasm, she becomes convinced that the child is possessed by the devil and sells her away from Isabel.
Isabel is a strong character for one so young; she knows her own mind, and secretly educated, she is able to realize what is going on around her in the Loyalist household. Isabel must decide if she's going to use the information she learns to aid the Patriots or the British; uppermost in her mind at all times is what will happen to she and her sister if she is caught. While I was horrified at how Isabel was treated, I was also humbled by her courage and through Anderson's gift of words, able to see her soul of survival even when Isabel herself was having trouble doing so.
Anderson has a way of pulling you into the mind of her characters, and whether historical or modern, you can sense the tension and emotions as the plot unfolds. Though I wondered at times whether Isabel would have thought or done some of the things she did, I felt that Anderson did a very credible job of building suspense and recreating the world of the American Revolution. As usual, Anderson has given us another page turner, and I can easily see many teachers of American history looking for this book as a supplement to their classes. Well written and well executed, Chains brings us the daily life of one small girl who makes a huge difference in a time when she shouldn't have been able to. Recommended!
No Amazon review yet; this one's not available for review until it's officially published.

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