Chains: The Seeds of America Trilogy, Book 1

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

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 14 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Readers learn about horrific treatment endured by enslaved Black people in early America, also about the ways that the Revolutionary War was fought off the battlefield, through spying and subterfuge. Behavior of White soldiers on both sides, and cruelty to prisoners of war, teaches an important lesson about not viewing war in terms of "good guys and bad guys." Appendix explores this further, offers historical information about the war and slavery.


Positive Messages

People of honor repay their debts. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Isabel is a brave, intelligent, loyal girl, whose loving heart will not let her put her own safety before others'.


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 cannonball. Dead bodies are stacked like cordwood, dumped in pits. A husband punches his wife in the face.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink brandy, wine, beer, and their behavior changes when they are drunk; they speak more loudly, are less alert. Men 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, heartbreaking depiction of life as an enslaved person in war-torn New York in 1776. This novel pulls no punches about the price of freedom for those who are enslaved or for the American Revolutionary rebels. The story is narrated by Isabel, a young enslaved woman who's devoted to her younger sister, Ruth. Isabel survives extreme physical abuse from her enslaver, including beatings, neglect, imprisonment, and more. Isabel is also exposed to the treatment of prisoners of war, who are left to starve in atrocious conditions, and she observes the behavior of wealthy and selfish White people who often drink to excess and gorge themselves while the enslaved and prisoners go hungry. Violence includes a girl branded on the cheek and 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 cannonball. Dead bodies are stacked like cordwood and dumped in pits. A husband punches his wife in the face.

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
Teen, 13 years old Written byezmx23 April 21, 2010

What's the story?

Before CHAINS begins, two young Black enslaved women -- Isabel and her younger sister, Ruth -- were promised they would be freed upon their mistress's death. Instead, their late mistress's nephew sells them to the Locktons, a wealthy Loyalist and his mean-spirited wife. At the Locktons' home in New York, the girls work hard and are cruelly mistreated, while the British and Americans fight over the city. When a young enslaved man on the rebel side asks Isabel to become a spy, she agrees, based on his assurance that the rebels will help free her. However, the colonists are ultimately only interested in their own freedom, and by helping the rebels, Isabel risks her own safety.

Is it any good?

Laurie Halse Anderson's brutally realistic novel will move and educate readers about slavery in late 18th century New York. Isabel is courageous and bright, and devoted to her little sister. Youngsters will respond to her pain and the unfairness of her situation, and they will get a sense of the incredible physical and emotional hardships that enslaved children endured. This novel also uniquely sets the crime of slavery within the context of the American Revolutionary War, inviting children to examine the concept of "freedom" in relation to the colonists vs. the enslaved.

The appendix -- which is offered in a question-and-answer format -- provides further context and historical facts. It explains which events in the novel were real and which are fiction, and helps readers make sense of a story that may challenge their previous ideas about "good guys and bad guys" in the Revolutionary War. This engaging novel will entertain readers while encouraging a deeper understanding of the brutality of slavery and war.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Isabel's bravery. What gives her courage? How is she different from other female heroes you've read about?

  • How does Isabel's story compare with other things you've read and learned about the American Revolutionary War?

  • Did this book make you want to read the rest of the series? What do you hope will happen in books 2 and 3? What do you think will happen?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love history

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