Set in 1776, Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson tells the story of the British invasion of New York from the perspective of a young girl who has been enslaved. Isabel struggles to make her way in a household with cruel owners and wants only to find freedom with her younger disabled sister. At times she joins the fight of the early Americans but finds that the rebel cause does not help her own struggle. Quotes from primary sources at the beginning of each chapter bring a sense of immediacy to the fictional account.
Anderson uses vivid language and pulled me into the story from the start with the individual conflicts of each scene tucked into the larger conflict of a city invaded as seen by a girl trapped in an inhumane system. Although the subject of slavery is bleak, the author found a way to wrap hope into the ending. I now know the history of the era better, including a plot by the mayor of New York to assassinate George Washington, and appreciate the perspective of a character who would not benefit from the words of the original United States constitution.
Chains held my attention as I waited for long stretches out at our lake place a few weekends ago. The children swam as I sat in a wood-slatted chair with my feet in the water. I hunched over the pages of the book at the gate and let newcomers inside the area. My family thought I was patient, but really I loved the chance to sink into this novel. I am grateful to Anderson for that gift of a get away even as I recoiled from what happened to Isabel. The book deserved its awards: National Book Award Finalist in 2008 and the 2009 Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction.
Here Anderson reads from her work at the National Book Awards: