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Chains (The Seeds of America Trilogy) Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 21, 2008
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As the Revolutionary War begins, thirteen-year-old Isabel wages her own fight...for freedom. Promised freedom upon the death of their owner, she and her sister, Ruth, in a cruel twist of fate become the property of a malicious New York City couple, the Locktons, who have no sympathy for the American Revolution and even less for Ruth and Isabel. When Isabel meets Curzon, a slave with ties to the Patriots, he encourages her to spy on her owners, who know details of British plans for invasion. She is reluctant at first, but when the unthinkable happens to Ruth, Isabel realizes her loyalty is available to the bidder who can provide her with freedom.
From acclaimed author Laurie Halse Anderson comes this compelling, impeccably researched novel that shows the lengths we can go to cast off our chains, both physical and spiritual.
- Format: Hardcover
- Publication Date: 10/21/2008
- Pages: 320
- Reading Level: Age 10 and Up
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Whatever we may think of the founding fathers and the American Revolution it was not about “all men [having been] created equal”. Both the northern and southern colonies included one in every five persons who were kidnaped and enslaved—Africans and their descendants. Chains is an historical novel about the life of a teenage girl enslaved on New York Island (Manhattan) and her trials with loyalists and rebels during middle and late 1770s of the Revolutionary War. Both sides had slaves and neither side respected the freedom of runaways. It was a world of extraordinary inequality in which prisoners of war were abused to the point of starvation unless they were gentrified officers who were then held under comfortable house arrest and slaves who were considered inhuman property whose owners could punish them with the direst cruelty. While most of the characters are fictional, the situation of their lives is carefully documented with historical records. What might otherwise seem to be impossible exaggeration becomes sadly believable and shameful. It is a blight on the idyllic vision of our so-called enlightened history. But Chains is a remarkably well told and compelling story. Whether you are predominately a reader of fiction or history you are likely to appreciate and learn from this book. I was compelled to finish it two days.
In a time like today when we face the possible repression of our people, it behooves us to examine history. So many of us believe our founding fathers were good people. We believe what they said and did was sacrosanct. We've honor them and set them up as near dieties. But, in reality they were people. Full of flaws, just like us. Had they lost the Revolutionary War, they would have been shunned and called traitors. Having won, we herald them as heroes.
In Chains we examine what it might have been like during that turbulent, uncertain time to have been a slave. The main character, Isabel, is a Negro child, trying to protect her younger sister. Alone, enslaved, abused, she struggles to achieve her rightful freedoms. The author did an amazing job of telling Isabel's story without overdramatizing the hardships. Made it easier for me to read.
The times are tempestuous at best. Finding herself in New York City at the time of the British invasion, Isabel sways from the rebel side to the British side. Her goal is not a country's freedom, which she recognizes as not pertaining to her, but the freedom of herself and her sister. She'll risk her life to achieve that goal.
Each chapter begins with a clip from a primary source, a newspaper article, a letter from a patriot or a British soldier, an excerpt from our historical documents. Those headings ground the chapter in history. The author strives to tell Isabel's story as accurately as she can all these years later.
Book 2 and 3 are finished. Thank goodness for those of us just finding this trilogy. Because when you finish Chains, you'll not want to wait to keep reading.
Here are some examples of the beautiful writing:
...Being loyal to the one who owned me gave me prickly thoughts, like burrs trapped in my shift, pressing into my skin with every step.
...There was truth in his words, hard truth, a hammer sticking a stone
..."Gossip is the foul smell of the Devil's backside," that's what Momma always said.
...Her voice sounded raw, like it had been run against a grater.
The absolute essence of this first book is written in these words from Isabel's mouth: I was chained between two nations.
Enjoy this wonderful series. If it doesn't win the National Book Award, it certainly should have!!i
Isabel and her 5 year old, "slow" sister Ruth are slaves. They were supposed to get their freedom upon the death of their mistress, but in a cruel twist of fairly common fate, the son of their mistress sells them to a well-to-do Tory couple on their way back to New York.
Only it's 1776 and New York is caught in the grip of rebellion and political upheaval. The first person Isabel meets is the slave of a rebel patriot, Curzon, who makes it known to Isabel that any information she can pass on about her Tory master will be rewarded.
But despite risking herself for the patriots and the implied promise of freedom, Isabel will contend with broken promises and refusal to acknowledge her humanity from the very men fomenting war to protest their own lack of voice and freedom.
What side can a slave choose?
From the first chapter Anderson sets you down in Isabel's work-a-day world and immerses you in 1776 New York. There are primary source quotations at the beginning of each chapter that only drive home the terrible irony of a time people waxed eloquent on freedom and still kept slaves. Anderson slowly strips away any naivete a reader might have as she imprisons Isabel in cruel situations where she can not care for the only precious thing she as left-- her sister, Ruth.
You can learn more about famous patriots and the Revolutionary war reading this book then many a textbook-- and the lessons will sink deep in your brain because of how Isabel experiences them and the meaning it has for her own life as a slave.
And Isabel's voice. A perfect balance of gritty reality, a touch of African spirituality, and that stream of consciousness sensibility that Anderson brings to her main characters that let you inside a world so utterly different from your own in a way that makes it familiar and terrifyingly real.
I wouldn't necessarily hand this book to a younger YA reader without being sure they could handle some very cruel (but realistic) portrayals of slapping, beating, and at one point branding of a slave.