Want personalized picks that fit your family?

Set preferences to see our top age-appropriate picks for your kids.

Get age-based picks

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
Powerful depiction of slavery in 1776 New York.
Popular with kids

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 11 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.

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 of a 11 year old Written byShinysocks May 6, 2011
Teen, 14 years old Written byPoison Ivey October 18, 2009

great book! I finished it in a day!

wow, I've never read a 300 page book in like aday before! Nor have I ever read so long striaght just like that! Chains is a great book, full of action, and... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byileannec March 23, 2015

A book to read

It's great I read it just now and it was amazing Kids r going to grow up and need to learn everything they can its not just "perfect life no violence... 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

For kids who love historical fiction

Our editors recommend

Top advice and articles

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality and learning potential.

Learn how we rate