Freedom meant so many things during the mid-1770's in the United States. While patriots fought for their own freedom, they did so at the expense of their slaves. Laurie Halse Anderson's Chains is a tale of the struggle for freedom: The freedom of one young slave girl and her sister as well as freedom from British tyranny for American Colonists.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I need to confess a couple of things before I review this book. First, I am an ardent fan of Laurie Halse Anderson. Second, historical fiction is my weakness. Last, Colonial America and the American Revolution, in all its glorious and inglorious humanity, is my favorite point in history. Now, with all my prejudices in the open, I have to say this book took my breath away. The depth of sorrow and strength of human nature are compellingly presented from the viewpoint of a young girl, an educated slave. Often, Andersons coined words pull on the readers chain to remind us that we are observing the revolution through a young girls eyes. Also, Anderson artfully uses period semantics without being heavy handed or plodding. The use of counterpoint subtly underlines the dissonance of the slaves lifeas when Isabel is in the stockades, Anderson juxtaposes dandelions growing in the mud against the horror of being branded.
In a more tangible way, the historic setting of the novel is built into the physical book. The pages are rough and uneven; the fonts are reminiscent of the period; and the last page of the book (not including the afterword) looks like a slave auction handbill. Anderson also begins each chapter with a quote from newspapers and other primary documents of the era, including correspondence between Abigail and John Adams. In addition to the remarkable view of the days before and after the Declaration of Independence provided by Isabels story, Andersons appendix includes historical facts she uncovered in her research. As a whole, this book is an unequaled teaching tool about slavery, revolution and what it meant to be American at the birth of a nation.
(Portions of this review first appeared in my blog, YA Need Books; reprinted here with permission of the author--me!)