Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson - Book Review

Is Chains a story of the American Revolution, a story of slavery's injustice, or a story of a young girl’s struggle to keep the remaining trace of her family together as she lingers at adulthood’s door?

As America seeks autonomy from monarchy’s rule, an orphaned slave girl, Isabel, is promised freedom upon her mistress’ death. But after the death, Isabel, and her younger sister are sold into a vile and conflicting situation. Who does she trust? Who will help her find the lawyer that can substantiate her claim? Isabel has no allegiance to either the British or the Revolutionaries and consorting with either poses dangerous consequences. She seeks only what all men seek: freedom.

With Chains, author-extraordinaire Anderson gives us full and diverse characters. Though some are mean, or even evil, she manages to introduce counter-characters to demonstrate the complete picture of human emotions. It is easy to fall in love with Isabel and by the story’s end, we are clamoring for more of her authentically proud and strong voice. The plot moves at a good pace for both holding student interest as well as allowing enough detail for cultural/historical investigation. My only worry is the depth of the political conflict’s motivations are glossed over (and I understand why this is necessary in a novel), so educators might want to provide historical background knowledge to support the story before, during and after each section (which is always a sound educational practice anyway). The historical references are amazingly abundant and perfectly researched, and Anderson includes a fantastic appendix, easing the quest for supplemental materials.

In the end, what Chains does best is juxtapose the irony of a nation struggling for freedom with that of one young lady waging her personal war for those same rights. So to answer my leading question: Chains is a novel about the American Revolution, it’s a story about slavery’s injustice and a story of one girl’s march into adulthood; but Chains is really the story of Everyman’s rise from tyranny.

Recommended in history classrooms as well as literature classrooms in grades 6-10. Would suit both units on slavery, the American Revolution as well as literature discussions on personal freedoms and inalienable rights.

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Genre: Historical Fiction. Age: 9-12. Pages: 320.

Themes: Courage, Determination, Strength of Character
Publisher: Simon & Schuster. Date: October 2008.
ISBN-10: 1416905855 / ISBN-13: 978-1416905851

Buy Chains HERE Discussion Guide HERE

Ms. Anderson reading part of Chains:

Laurie Halse Anderson really wants you to pronounce her maiden name correctly. One of her favorite childhood foods was Quisp cereal, but she now leans more toward pumpkin pie. You can learn more about her on her website or follow her on Twitter
© 2007-2009 Cheryl Vanatti for

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