A slave girl bent on gaining her freedom finds herself embroiled in the furor of the Revolutionary War in 1776 New York City.
It’s simply perfect, that’s all there is to it. Chains is one of the finest examples of a young adult novel you’re likely to find, from one of the genre’s finest authors, Laurie Halse Anderson. I have been reading YA for almost three decades now and while Anderson’s Speak, a fine, fine novel itself, is a classic of a certain kind of YA novel, Chains is simply a classic. It’s an excellent companion to Witch of Blackbird Pond, another classic that sets history alight thanks to a story that captures readers’ hearts.
Isabel is a slave girl, age 13, promised her freedom on the death of her Rhode Island mistress. But in the absence of papers proving her story, she and her little sister Ruth are sold to a wealthy couple in New York City who are staunch Loyalists amid the brewing American revolution. Isabel hopes to trade the secrets of her household for freedom for her and her sister, and gets caught up in the intrigue with devastating results. Chains takes a lot of risks–it’s not a safe read–but never does Anderson go for cheap exploitation. Even more impressive is the way she weaves history throughout. I have never been particularly interested in the Revolution, but Anderson made every detail compelling, relevant, and alive.
As always, Anderson’s writing is straightforward and evocative. She manages to make Isabel’s voice feel fresh and contemporary without being anachronistic. The period language she uses never distracts or feels quaint. I fell in love with Isabel’s spirit and can’t wait to read the next book in the series, Forge.