In 1776, American Patriots had had enough. They were taking up arms to fight for freedom from British tyranny. Thomas Paine declares in his pamphlet that no man has an inherent right to rule over another. Another Patriot leader Thomas Jefferson declared that “all men are created equal,” but the irony was that these men were in reality only talking about free white men, not women nor any person of color.
In Chains, Laurie Halse Anderson explores this ironic situation through the eyes of Isabel, a young slave girl who finds herself caught in the middle of the Revolution in New York City. Thirteen-year-old Isabel and her younger sister Ruth, had been promised freedom by their former mistress upon her death, but their owner’s heir has other ideas. He quickly sells Isabel and Ruth to the Locktons, a malicious couple active in the British efforts to subdue Patriot activity in New York. Isabel’s new friend, Curazon, is a slave owned by one of the leading Patriot leaders in New York, and he encourages Isabel to spy on the Locktons. Isabel isn’t concerned about freedom for all, only freedom for herself and her sister and must carefully weigh the risks versus the benefits of becoming involved with the Patriot cause.
This beautifully written book was a National Book Award Finalist and Scott O’Dell Award winner for 2008. Anderson does not skirt the issues that accompany writing a book about slavery. There is a branding and a flogging, which are even more difficult to deal with in that these inhumane treatments are carried out against a child, but these incidents are depicted appropriately for an upper elementary / middle school aged audience.
Forge the sequel to Chains is also available for check-out in the NHCA library.
Recommended: Grades 5 and Up (Checkout in NHCA library restricted to grades 5 and 6)