A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Forge is the second book in Laurie Halse Anderson's The Seeds of America trilogy, following Chains. It's a true-to-life book about the harsh reality of wartime and slavery. The main character, an enslaved man named Curzon whom Isabel freed from prison in Chains, is abused and beaten, suffers intolerable conditions in the army, and is treated as less than human time and time again. The violence and harshness exist within a historical context, and nothing is gratuitous. In fact, Curzon's ability to persist against constant opposition is ultimately uplifting, and rewarded. A young boy is whipped. Soldiers kill one another. Men are hung and beaten to unconsciousness. People are hit, stabbed, and killed. There's a subtle reference to an enslaved woman being "hurt" by one of her enslavers, which readers may interpret as being raped or abused.
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What's the story?
This sequel to Chains shifts the perspective from Isabel, a young woman who is enslaved during the American Revolutionary War, to Curzon, a young man who has also been enslaved. It follows his story as he escapes from a military prison, inadvertently reenlists in the army during the American Revolution, suffers inhumane conditions at the Valley Forge encampment, and is recaptured by his vicious old master. It also reunites Isabel and Curzon and tells the story of what ultimately happens to them. The fictional characters are woven through real historical events and places.
Is it any good?
Forge is a realistic depiction of slavery and wartime in 18th century America. At the same time, it tells the story of how a person can retain his dignity, integrity, and will in the face of constant misfortune. "Tho' I stood in rags and upon frozen feet, I felt much more a man than he," says the main character of his master. It also tells of how true love can surmount many an obstacle. Kids will get a sense of the incredible difficulties American soldiers faced at Valley Forge, and the even more difficult path for African Americans, both free and enslaved, who served in the military. Kids will also learn that although the soldiers dealt with unimaginable hardship, they continued to serve their country for the cause of freedom.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about historical fiction. Why is it important to read stories about events that happened in the past? Is it easier for you to remember history when you read the facts -- or when you read an invented story, like Curzon's? Did you take a look at the appendix in the back of the book that provided the actual history?
This book is part of a series that began with the book Chains. Were you disappointed that it had a new protagonist, instead of returning to Isabel? Why do you think the author chose to write from Curzon's point of view this time? What will she do with the next (and final) installment?
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