Part Copper Sun (Sharon Draper), part The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing (M.T. Anderson), and entirely Laurie Halse Anderson's amazing ability to relate serious issues to teens, Chains was (as expected) another educational, thought-provoking, and powerful young adult novel that can be used in classrooms everywhere.
At the beginning of the novel, readers see young Isabel with little sister Ruth, on the brink of freedom. Having been promised that they will be legally freed after her mistress' death, Isabel attends Miss Mary Finch's funeral with thoughts of freedom in her head. Before the funeral has even ended, Isabel's hopes and dreams are snatched away by her deceased owner's nephew who refuses to honor his aunt's promise. Robert Finch quickly sells the two girls in a tavern to the highest bidder. Isabel and Ruth are sold to the Lockton's, a powerful, wealthy Loyalist couple who are doing everything in their power to stop the American Revolution.
Subjected to horrors that even adults couldn't survive, Isabel serves the Lockton's while deciding which side to help in the Revolution. Which group will set her free? Patriots or Loyalists? Painfully, make that excruciatingly, Isabel learns the answer to this question.
"Whenever I heard the words liberty or freedom, I wanted to spit in the
As with all of Anderson's characters, Isabel is strong and must rely on herself alone to fight her way out of the nightmare her life has become. After a severe beating, and a terrifying threat from Mrs. Lockton, Isabel has an ephiphany:
"A thought surfaced through my ashes. She cannot chain my soul. Yes, she could
hurt me. She'd already done so...I would bleed, or not. Scar, or not. Live, or
not. But she could no longer harm Ruth. and she could not hurt my soul, not
unless I gave it to her." (p. 246-247)
Anderson masterfully includes documented historical quotes throughout the novel that help to make it educational and authentic. I also thought Anderson did a wonderful job of showing the cruelty and ugly rawness of war and slave treatment during the American Revolution. Neither side is painted as perfect or pretty, and Isabel (along with readers) learns that the hard way. Anderson's talent for making historical events relatable to today's young adults is a gift to teachers everywhere...