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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Chains - Laurie Halse Anderson

I'm hoping this year that I might have read at least one of the books that gets a Newbery Honor at least, since often I haven't read even one of those, let alone the winner before the announcement, and I heard some buzz about this one, so I checked it out from the public library. Newbery or not, this book is flat out amazing. I LOVED it. I am a big fan of Laurie Halse Anderson, especially Speak and Fever, 1793, and this one exceeded my expectations.

I read this book in nearly one day over the winter break because I simply could not put it down. The book is set in 1776 during the Revolutionary War. Isabel, the main character in this novel, is a young slave girl, who along with her sister was supposed to receive her freedom upon the death of her mistress. Enter the greedy, evil son of the mistress, and suddenly not only is Isabel not free, she's been sold to a pretty awful New York couple who are Tory Loyalists.

Desperate to find freedom for herself and her sister, Isabel uses her invisibility as a slave to eavesdrop on her master's conversations and then reports her findings to the Patriots. Unfortunately, her work does not lead to the conclusion she was hoping for, and Isabel finds herself facing difficult choices.

The characterization in this book is incredibly strong, and I found myself deeply attached to Isabel. The themes are also tremendously powerful, exploring freedom, power and humanity in complex and thoughtful ways. Clearly Ms. Halse Anderson did amazing research to create this vivid portrait of slave life and the Revolution, and readers will feel themselves being pulled into the time period as thought watching a movie.

Except for the ending, which left me extremely disappointed and frustrated - you'll see why when you read it - I'd say this was pretty nearly a perfect piece of historical fiction. I'd be interested to hear how others felt upon turning to the last page.

This book has not yet been ordered for the WOMS library, but its sure to be on the order list soon.

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