Chains: The Seeds of America Trilogy, Book 1

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Chains: The Seeds of America Trilogy, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Popular with kids
Powerful depiction of slavery in 1776 New York.

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 13 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will learn about the horrible nature of slavery and get a really good understanding of Revolutionary times. Each chapter begins with a historical quote, and the book's appendix is an excellent historical resource.


Positive Messages

Readers will not only understand the brutal nature of slavery but will also be encouraged to think carefully about what it means to be free and where bravery comes from. Parents and teachers can use the book's appendix and Simon and Schuster's reading group guide to help tweens connect more deeply with the book.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Isabel is a strong, relatable character, and readers see how she wrestles with decisions that may seem unethical (like spying) but that will have a good end.


Since this book depicts the evils of slavery, the violence is necessary to the story's portrayal of the subject.  A young girl is beaten into unconsciousness, her teeth are broken, she's branded on the cheek, and she's slashed in the face with a riding crop. Men are hung and stabbed; people are killed in battle, fire, and lightning. A boy is decapitated by a cannon ball. Wounded soldiers get maggots in their wounds and are jailed, starved, and frozen to death. Dead bodies are stacked like cordwood and dumped in pits. A husband punches his wife in the face.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink wine and beer and smoke pipes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Chains is the first book in Laurie Halse Anderson's The Seeds of America Trilogy, followed by Forge and Ashes. Chains is a realistic depiction of life as a young slave in a war-torn city, and it pulls no punches about the price of freedom in Revolutionary times. The main character must survive tremendous cruelties, including being badly beaten. Parents concerned about the book's violence should know that it's not gratuitous but used to accurately show the main character's plight and daily life. Although Isabel is a victim of torments that pass understanding, she remains unbowed.

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User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 4, 8, 11, 12, 18+, and 18+-year-old Written byTreythetired April 8, 2011


Well, I can't even find words to describe this story. Although it does include beatings, whippings, and punching women in the face, all just in the Lockton... Continue reading
Parent Written byNoNonsenseMom February 2, 2011

Must be a relly good reader to get through this book

My avid 6th grade reader could not "get into" this book. It's a hard read mostly because the language that the author used is Revolution War peri... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byThePirateQueen January 23, 2018

Chains is definitely going on my best reads of 2018!

Chains is an inspiring story about a young, enslaved African-American girl. This book includes some beating and hurtful words, but the spirit and bravery of Is... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old July 8, 2020

Very Very good book

I am a child who loves learning about the revolutionary war. I found this difficult to do, however, because the books I read either made no sense to me, or were... Continue reading

What's the story?

Isabel and her younger sister, Ruth, were promised that they would be freed at their mistress' death. Instead, her nephew nephew sells them to a wealthy Loyalist and his sadistic wife. At the Locktons' home in New York, the girls are made to work nonstop while the British and Americans fight over the city. When a young slave on the American side asks Isabel to become a spy, she agrees on his assurance that they'll help free her. But the Americans are ultimately no more interested her freedom than the British.

Is it any good?

This grim, brutally realistic depiction  will move and educate readers. Isabel is a strong, relatable character, and through her story, kids will get a sense of the incredible physical and emotional hardships of slavery ("I have no map for this life," Isabel says) -- as well as a strong understanding of the the Revolutionary War.

This National Book Award finalist will leave a deep impression on its readers, who will likely want to follow Isabel's story into its second installment, Forge.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the book's violence. These depictions may be painful to read, but do they add realism and power to Isabel's story? How is reading about violence different than seeing it in a movie or video game?

  • This book is going to have a sequel. What do you think will happen to Isabel next? Why do you think the next book is called Forge?

Book details

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For kids who love historical fiction

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