Monday, February 16, 2009

CHAINS- Laurie Halse Anderson

Twelve-year-old Isabel is a slave in Rhode Island in 1776. Her father has been sold, her mother has died, and Isabel is responsible not only for herself, but also for her five-year-old sister, Ruth, who is "simple" and suffers from epilepsy. Isabel's owner, Miss Mary Finch, is not the typical slave owner; she has taught Isabel to read, and has even written her will to grant freedom to Isabel and Ruth when she dies.

Unfortunately, when Miss Mary dies, an unscrupulous cousin takes custody of the girls. Instead of being freed, they are sold to the Mr. and Mrs. Lockton, a wealthy but cruel Loyalist couple in New York City. Isabel's only "friends" in the city are Master Lockton's wealthy aunt, Lady Seymour, and Curzon, a slave she meets the day the girls arrive in the city. Curzon encourages Isabel to act as a spy for the Patriots. Isabel is neither for nor against the Patriots' cause, she just wants to obtain freedom for herself and her little sister, and is willing to do whatever she has to do to make that happen…

Madame Lockton is cruel beyond belief. She works Isabel day and night, and tries to train Ruth to be her personal attendant. Because of her seizures, Ruth is unable to do the job, so Madame Lockton determines that she is no longer of value to the household. Isabel, totally grief stricken, runs into the city looking for her sister. When she is caught, she is severely punished. I wept as I read those chapters…

Prior to CHAINS,  I didn't know very much about New York City during the Revolutionary War. Like most Americans, I hadn't spent too much time thinking about the Loyalists. I'd never wondered about what happened to all of the families who lived in New York  City during that time.  I never knew there was a huge fire that destroyed a large part of the city in 1776. And although I knew that the Patriot soldiers had hard lives, I was shocked to learn that the prisoners of war were "stuffed" into jails, churches, warehouses, and even old ships, with no heat, no coats or blankets, no medical treatment, and very little food or water. Laurie Halse Anderson does a masterful job of embedding layers and layers of research into this powerful story, and I come away not only having read a great story, but also knowing a lot more about the Revolutionary War. 

This is an amazing read, by one of the finest authors writing today. I loved Halse Anderson's picture book, INDEPENDENT DAMES. I couldn't wait to share the ARC of her newest YA novel, WINTERGIRLS with my niece. And now CHAINS. Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow!

Maybe the best thing is that there will be a sequel to CHAINS within the next year! I'd like to read it tomorrow! I want to know what happens to Isabel and Curzon!

No comments: