Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Atheneum; 1 edition (January 5, 2010)
If an entire nation could seek its freedom, why not a girl?
"Chains" is the story of a young black girl who is a slave in Rhode Island in 1776. She and her younger sister, Ruth, are owned by an elderly woman who has just passed away when the story opens. Their new owner is her nephew who has no use for the girls and only wants to get rid of them as soon as possible. He determines to sell them to the first possible buyer even though his aunt had made arrangements with her lawyer to free the girls upon her death. The lawyer recently left the area and took all his papers with him. The nephew chooses to ignore this possibility of freedom and sells the girls to Mr. and Mrs. Lockton of New York City who are traveling through.
With this event, Isabel and Ruth are pulled away from their home with no belongings. They are quickly forced to adjust to the lifestyle of the Locktons who are British Loyalists living at the early stages of the American Revolution. Their life is further complicated by the fact that Ruth at age 5 is "slow" and also prone to "fits". Eventually, Madam Lockton decides that she doesn't want to have such a person in her home and tells Isabel that she has sold Ruth to someone in the West Indies. This news causes Isabel to confront Madam and the result is that Isabel is beaten and attempts to run away. She is caught, placed in stocks and at Madam's direction, is branded with a capital I on her cheek. The only friend that Isabel has been able to make in NYC is a young black boy named Curzon, the slave of Mr. Bellingham, a Patriot. Curzon attempts to draw Isabel into the conflict between England and the American colonies by spying on Mr. Lockton and carrying messages for the Rebel cause. Isabel is reluctant to put herself in jeopardy by doing these things but agrees with the hope that the Americans will help her to find Ruth. Dramatic events take place over the course of the story which covers 8 months. The American colonies declare their independence and the war begins. Isabel must try to survive in a life where she has no voice, no advocate, and no recourse while she also deals with a world at war.
I enjoyed reading this book very much and look forward to reading the sequel, Forge. The book is geared for a younger audience ( I could picture my 9 year old granddaughter reading it), but it definitely held my interest as I read it. The story has historical reference to the early events of the American Revolution but is told from the very personal perspective of a young black slave girl who really doesn't have a pick in this fight. Isabel's life will not be significantly changed by either side in this war. On one hand, the British see a very definite distinction between the aristocracy and the lowly colonists. On the other hand, the fact that the Colonists are fighting for equality of all men while she remains a slave, is not lost on Isabel. She understands their desire to be free of the control of the Crown in England but realizes that this will not translate into freedom for her or any other black slave. It is very humbling to see how people treat this young, orphaned child as though she is an animal at their command and convenience with no feelings, needs or desires. I think this story is a great way to open the eyes and minds of young people in a way that will hold their interest and cause them to care about Isabel and her life and perhaps to really consider what it means for all men to be created equal.
~Janeth (the Nana)
Parents should know: There is no language or sexual content, but there is some violence. For more details, check out Chains on Parental Book Reviews.