Thursday, June 18, 2009


by Laurie Halse Anderson. Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, 2008. Isabel is a twelve year old African American girl in slavery in Rhode Island in 1776. When her mistress dies she expects to be freed, since it is in her mistress's will. Unfortunately the heir is a man who wants to sell her and her little sister, 5 year old Ruth, in auction. He has no patience for her claims and the lawyer with the papers has left the state. The doctor who knows Isabel and her mistress does nothing to help her. They are sold in a tavern and end up with a cruel woman and her business-minded husband in New York City. In the summer and fall of 1776 NYC is in the middle of British occupation in the Revolutionary war. Isabel is smart and kind-hearted, and continues to hold on to hope even in the face of unbelievable cruelty and injustice. As she listens and watches the Rebels and the Loyalists she befriends a young man, freed from slavery by joining the Rebel army, who is then captured and imprisoned. She moves from naive innocence to revolutionary thoughts of her own. The ending is a cliff-hanger making me want to call Laurie up and ask how her novel writing is going. Can't wait for the sequel!

Chains is beautifully and expertly written, as all of Laurie Halse Anderson's books are. I hung on every word of this book but forced myself to spread it out over several nights instead of tearing through it in one sitting. I kept thinking back to reading Octavian Nothing and comparing the two. I almost expected Isabel to run into Octavian. I'm sure they would have a lot to talk about and could help each other out.

I was also thinking back to the books I read in middle school and high school about the Revolution. We had nothing from an African American perspective, as far as I can remember. I think I read Johnny Tremain. Don't think there were any African Americans in that book, although Anderson tell us that probably 20% of the population of the colonies was Black. Can you think of anything else written for Young Adults about the Revolution, pre-1980s? How differently I understand the issues and complexity now that I have seen it through the eyes of African American young people caught up in the struggle. Which side would offer more freedom, more dignity, more humanity? The British or the Rebels? Neither side seemed to care much about anything but their own economic profits, actually. I don't think they told it to us that way in history class. What do you think?

Check out Anderson's website here, where you can read her blog more about her books, see reviews, a teacher's guide, and hear a music playlist.


Jules at 7-Imp said...

I have GOT to read this already.

Andromeda Jazmon said...

Yes, Jules, you do! It is really great. It kept me awake at night after I put it down, both from the horror of our history and the tenderness in her writing.