A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
- Parents say
- Kids say
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?
- Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
- Genre: Historical Fiction
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Great Girl Role Models, History
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster
- Publication date: October 1, 2008
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 11 - 13
- Number of pages: 316
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: November 4, 2020
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