Review Blog

Jan 23 2009

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

cover image

Bloomsbury, 2009.
(Age 11+) Highly recommended. The harrowing story of slavery in the Americas is given full reign in this tightly controlled story about Isobel, a young girl, who along with her five year old sister, Ruth is sold onto another after the death of her mistress. The girls had been told they would receive their freedom, but the person to whom they are sold treats them with disdain and coldness. The plight of young girls, slaves in a household, where they are expected to be up before dawn and go to bed after everyone else, is told in punishing detail. Living in New York, the fact that it is 1770, adds a greater terror to their lives.
The American War of Independence is all around them, in their household where the owners are loyal to the British, to the streets crammed full of soldiers, to the shops, closed through fear of reprisal, to houses being burnt to the ground, to the prisons where captured American soldiers are starved and left to rot, their naked bodies thrown into common graves. The air is full of war and spying and death, and Isobel becomes a go between for several captured soldiers and their officers, allowed to live in boarding houses.
It is a time of fear and retribution, and Isobel knows full well to stay out of her mistresses' way, but falls foul of her often enough to incur dreadful punishment. This amazing story will thrill its readers, and they will gain an awful insight into the role of slavery in the foundation of the United States of America, and the personal lives of girls taken from their parents and made to live lives of drudgery and fear. Isobel's story will be continued in the sequel, Forge. Highly recommended for upper primary and lower secondary readers.
Fran Knight

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