Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 316 pages
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Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson is the first in a series of books set during the American Revolution, and Isabel is a young slave who must care for herself and her sister, Ruth, after the death of their mother and their owner.  She quickly finds that the things she had been promised by their owner do not come to pass, and she must prepare herself for new and more harsh owners, the Locktons.  In her new household in New York, where the Locktons have settled from England, she finds that her chores are many and grueling, but that her sister has garnered the special attention of Mrs. Lockton, who dresses her as a doll and requires her to be silent at all times.  New York also is where she meets Curzon, a young black boy working on the side of the rebels, for whom he hopes she will provide intelligence from the Lockton household.

“The bees swarmed again behind my eyes, making the scene grow dim and distant.  The sun was nearing the horizon, casting long shadows across the wharf.  I was a ghost tied to the ground, not a living soul.”  (page 182)

Isabel soon learns that both the British and American rebels are willing to use slaves as they see fit and promise them freedom they have no intention of granting.  Anderson’s young adult novel deftly balances the cruelty of slavery with the sensibilities of young adults, ensuring that the abuse and cruelty is never more than young readers can handle. However, there are some instances that do become graphic, but it is essential to demonstrate the fates that faced a number of slaves, especially those who attempted or even thought about escaping their masters.  Moreover, she easily demonstrates the excess and perfidy of the war and its opposing sides, as the British throw balls in honor of the queen at the same time the rebels are struggling to feed themselves.

“And then, the final triumph.  She used a tiny brush to paint a thin line of glue above each eye.  Madam opened an envelope and shook out two gray strips of mouse fur, each cut into an arch.  Leaning toward the mirror, she glued the mouse fur onto her own eyebrows, making them bushy and thick as the fashion required.”  (page 207)

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson is the first in a series, and it ends with a wide open ending in many ways, but at least some of the issues are resolved.  Anderson brings to life not only the issue of slavery, but also of the opposing sides in the revolution and the confusion it brought with it on the battlefield and in the cities not immediately touched by the war.  The confusing reports, the captured cities, the changing of power, all of it comes to life.

About the Author:

Laurie Halse Anderson is the New York Times-bestselling author who writes for kids of all ages. Known for tackling tough subjects with humor and sensitivity, her work has earned numerous American Library Association and state awards. Two of her books, Speak and Chains, were National Book Award finalists. Chains also made the Carnegie Medal Shortlist in the United Kingdom.

Laurie was the proud recipient of the 2009 Margaret A. Edwards Award given by YALSA division of the American Library Association for her “significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature…”. She was also honored with the ALAN Award from the National Council of Teachers of English and the St. Katharine Drexel Award from the Catholic Librarian Association.

This is my 4th book for the American Revolution Reading Challenge 2013





This is my 60th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.


  1. The Girl and I are really enjoying it and hope to read it soon. Oh, so many books, so little time. At least the read-along was a success! 🙂

  2. This sounds like a wonderful book for young readers!