Book Review: Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

Set in my favorite time period, this book for young readers follows a young slave named Sal (Isabel), who is separated from her sister during the American Revolution. The book is upper-level middle grade (for strong readers) or the younger end of YA (School Library Journal has it listed as grades 6-10, but I could see some strong readers reading it in elementary school, and I could also see some older readers, including adults, reading it).

What I liked most about the novel is how immersed I felt in the American Revolutionary time period. Told in first person, the story uses some historical diction to give the feel of being back in the 1770s without being cumbersome.

The novel examines the gray nature of the American Revolution: there was no clear-cut “good” or “bad” guy. In some senses, the British were more humane than the Americans in that they often helped free the slaves. In other cases, the Americans were more humane, since the British jailed American freedom fighters without feeding them properly or providing sanitary conditions.

Without being cliché, the novel also examines—through Isabel’s realizations when reading Common Sense—the hypocrisy of Americans fighting for their own freedom while still allowing slavery. And as Isabel demonstrates, education is the most powerful tool against one’s own enslavement.

I have already purchased the second book in the trilogy, Fever, and plan to read it soon. While I enjoy reading MG and YA works, I am sometimes left wanting more depth as is offered by books for full-on grownups. But this was not the case with Chains. The level of depth not only in Isabel but in some of the more minor characters made the entire world seem real and human. I highly recommend this book.

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