Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson
It’s not often I read historical books on the Revolutionary War, even less often that I read books on slavery. While I live in Massachusetts, a state rich with history especially pertaining to the Revolutionary War, and I love that history, it has never been one of those eras that grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. So when given the choice, I’ll pick up a book on almost any other time period. I am so glad I didn’t pass on Chains.
Chains takes place at the onset of the Revolutionary War. Isabel and her little sister Ruth, who were supposed to be freed after their owner, Miss Mary Finch, died, were instead sold to the Locktons, Loyalists living in New York City. As the British take over the city, Isabel struggles to determine who she can trust and how to get out of the hopeless situation she is in.
One of my favorite aspects of this book were the openings of each chapter where a quote, advertisement or news article excerpt from the time period was used. I’m a sucker for quotes, so I was won over right away, but each quote was carefully chosen and represented the theme or issue that that chapter dealt with. They really gave you a good context of the mind set during that time.
I liked Isabel. Not only was she a strong character, who had her weaknesses, she was someone you could look up to. Despite her helpless situation, she always remained strong. Even when she had every reason to give up, she didn’t. What makes Isabel even more amazing is her ability to put others needs before hers. That’s not something I come across that often in a character.
I think part of what makes this book so successful is not just a good protagonist but a great antagonist. Mrs. Lockton is one of those characters you love to hate and yet at the same time you can almost feel some sympathy for her at times too. She’s got her own set of problems and is a really well thought out character and used to the fullest.
Two reasons to why I found this book fascinating (asides from my comments above). One, this wasn’t your typical slavery book. Almost every book I’ve ever read on slavery had been set during or around the Civil War. Two, this story was (mostly) told from the Loyalist point of view, again something I’ve not read much on. Typically when I get a book on the Revolutionary War it’s from the Rebels’ point of view. And while Isabel wasn’t a Rebel or a Loyalist, she lived with a Loyalist family and so we get a story that is really told more from a Tory’s mindset. It was very interesting and eye opening.
I’m amazed at the detail and accuracy of this book. I can’t even begin to image how much research had to be done to successfully write Chains. I’d love to see Ms. Anderson’s files on her research for Chains. I whole-heartedly recommend this book. If it’s not on your to read list, add it.