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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 10 October 2008
Laurie Halse Anderson tells the amazing story of a slave girl during the American Revolution.

Isabel is actually supposed to be free, since that's what her deceased owner willed, but a greedy nephew takes it upon himself to keep Isabel and her younger sister, Ruth, enslaved for his own profit. With no parents, and no one to care about their fate, the girls are shipped off to New York to live with new owners.

Aside from Isabel's plight, this book also follows the progress of the war from the standpoint of both loyalists and rebels. Readers have glimpses of the wealthy, the working class, the soldiers, and the slaves -- all while their eyes are riveted to the story of one lonely girl.

Anderson develops a realistic setting and offers up details that serve to enrich this tale and keep readers interested. From a trip to the stocks to a hanging, we see the gruesome, and from heroic acts to cowardice, we see people at their most extreme.

Anderson allows enough filtering and distance for comfortable reading, but expect no holds barred from this accurate author. The times were not pretty, despite the burgeoning of a new America. The writer neither exaggerates nor shields. She simply tells her tale, and it is most definitely one worth reading.

Reviewed by: Julie M. Prince
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on 29 October 2010
The book opens in Spring 1776 at the scene of the funeral of Miss Mary Finch, the elderly owner of Isabel, a young teenage slave girl, her little sister Ruth and also of their mother, who had died of smallpox not long ago. Despite protests that herself and Ruth were freed in Miss Finch's will, her abrupt and unkindly nephew Robert refuses to acknowledge the existence of the will and wants to get rid of the girls as fast as he can to the high test bidder. Soon Isabel and Ruth find themselves sold to the cruel and wealthy Lockton family ,who are English loyalists, and shipped away to New York with the sea separating Rhode Island where they Mum is buried and the only place that they could get near to calling a home. With only each other left, Isabel vows to take care of Ruth, who is a simple but obedient and hard working girl Mrs Lockton, whom Isabel refers to as Madam in the book, treats Isabel very badly, making her work hard from dawn to dusk at her every whim and feeding her very little. Although it may seem that 'Madam' is trying to break Isabel's spirits she is determined to cling onto hope.
Soon after her arrival at the Lockton house, she becomes friends with a young slave boy called Curzon who opens her eyes to what is happening in the American fight for independence war and how the Patriots or 'rebels' as they were called were trying to gain freedom from the British that occupied New York. Owned by a Patriot leader, Curzon knows of the suspicion that has fallen on Mr Lockton and how Isabel could obtain valuable information from Mr Lockton as black slaves are thought of as invisible.

This short extract, which served as an alternative 'blurb' on the back of the book sums up Isabel's feelings about it:
'You want me to be a spy?" I asked. "Are you funny in the head? Do you know what they would do to me?"

Although confused at what she should do, Isabel eventually agrees to help as she believes it may help to gain her freedom, at great risk of dire consequences if she is found out by one of the Locktons.
After this, Isabel is on a dangerous journey and there are many questions that cannot be answered and she wonders whether she often wonders if she is doing the right thing or what side of the war she should trust. However, throughout all the many troubles that she has to face, her strength of spirit carries her through.

Chains was a book that was incredibly detailed and did not gloss over any part of the plot quickly but was very pacy and I couldn't stop reading even if though I didn't want it to end.
For me, the history of the American Revolutionary War was fresh and new, making it all the more interesting. I especially liked the way that the issue of slavery and the war were combined together as I have read books about slavery on plantations but found this book had more dimension and room for a dynamic plot, which Chains definitely has.
The many themes that cropped up in the book made me stop and think about the, such as racial tension and the invisibility of slaves and the horrors of the way that they were treated.
It also made you think about who were the 'good' and 'bad' side in the war and if there really was one as I know that many Americans grow up thinking that the British were the 'bad' side. However, the book makes you ask the questions: How would you feel if you were a slave and the British offered you freedom? Would you trust them even though the Patriots are the ones fighting for liberty, freedom and Independence?

Laurie Halse Anderson includes a wonderful appendix with questions and answers that include these historical topics amongst others. I found it very helpful, particularly with distinguishing fact from fiction in the book as many of the things that Isabel experiences could have actually happened at the time to a young slave girl.
At the top of each chapter were little extracts from sources like newspapers, letters or books written at the time, which I loved because they made the book more quirky and their content and the dated font helped to set the historical scene each time I opened the book to read more.
The chapters were just the right size, reasonably short but packing in enough emotion, excitement, plot twists and description to satisfy. I found that they were great when trying to get myself to put the book down to go to sleep!

Chains is the first book I have read by Laurie Halse Anderson and I loved it! Her writing style was very engaging as it was written from the point of view of Isabel, which meant that the emotion of her life as a slave really shined through the writing throughout the book. I also liked the way that at the end of chapters/paragraphs there was often a sentence in italics written as though Isabel is talking to herself.
I really recommend it to everyone- you will fall in love with the engaging and page turning story of Isabel's story of courage and strength when she is surrounded by betrayal and cruelty in her life.
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VINE VOICEon 17 October 2011
Wow! This is the best book I have read in a long time. It was so gripping I read it in a day and with me being a slow reader, thats no mean feat! I couldn't put this book down, even made the family tea with it in my hands!

This is a fictional story about a slave girl called Isabel but it is set in New York during the fractious times when the republicans wanted to sever ties with the British. The last few pages of the book are dedicated to certain topics arising in the story, factual accounts which I found really interesting.

Not only did I enjoy a thoroughly good read but I learnt quite alot about the history of the Americas and through Andersons writing I could imagine what life would have been like for slaves and servants at that time.

I enjoyed it so much I have just ordered the sequel "Forge" and cannot wait for that to arrive!
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on 30 July 2014
I've read every single book LHA has published (even the ones that weren't published in the can still get hold of them) and she has an extraordinary talent for making characters completely arresting and believable in a single sentence. This is her best book, and since she is an exceptional writer, this is high praise indeed!!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 5 January 2016
It's 1776 and we're in New York City. The Revolutionary War circles all around and the city is alternately occupied by Patriot and British forces. Isabel and her 5 year old sister Ruth are slaves and this book (the first in a trilogy) is about Isabel's battles for freedom and to protect her sister. The girls are supposed to have been freed according to the terms of their previous owner's will, but their rights have been ignored and instead they are sold to a New York couple.

Isabel is a gutsy and spirited heroine who you care strongly for. The other characters are less fleshed out, but my initial fears that everyone would be painted simplistically "good" or "bad" proved unfounded. The book is also very well researched. I felt like I had been transported to New York at that point in time - and what an eventful and interesting year in the city's history it was.

My days of being a "young" adult are sadly well behind me, but I still really enjoyed this book.
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Before I read Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson, I was unsure of whether it would catch my interest as I thought it would be a grim, depressing book filled with nothing but battles. However, I was soon proved wrong. Once I started to read the book, I found it extremely captivating and I immediately began to feel Isabel's every emotion and understand everything about her.

After their owner dies, Isabel believes she and her sister Ruth will be free, as promised in her owner's will. However, Isabel is horrified to learn that she and Ruth will be sold. Her and Ruth's cruel new owners, the Locktons, live in New York and it is there that Isabel is brought to the forefront of the American War of Independence.

The story is told well from Isabel's perspective. Isabel is in a world where she has very little power over her own destiny. She tries to exert some control over her life by making deals with people, but she is consistently let down. She has no power to protect herself but she must also try and protect her `simple-minded', epileptic sister, Ruth, who she loves very much. Even though Isabel faced immense pressure and suffered things that would have made many other people give up, she managed to persevere and dared to hope. Her need to protect Ruth spurred her on throughout the book and made her rebel.

Isabel's life was fraught with bad luck. She had several chances of having a better life than she had with the odious Locktons; however, she was stopped at every turn. Chains was gruelling at times as Isabel was a slave; a non-person. I was with her as she had to go through unendurable physical and emotional torment. It was agony to watch Isabel fighting with herself to remain passive when both she and I as a reader wanted her to do something definite and aggressive towards her oppressors.

Chains was well-paced and in proportion, however, I thought that the ending could have been improved as I was expecting another chapter to round off this part of her story. As Chains was from Isabel's point of view, the book contained colloquialisms. This was great as it was more realistic and it felt like I was hearing her thoughts as they occurred to her. Sad as it is to say, I felt that it would have been more likely that Isabel would have met a greater number of cruel individuals and fewer kind-hearted people such as Lady Seymour.

Isabel's story was made more real for me by the presence of the other storylines such as the American War of Independence that was historically accurate. It was very worthwhile reading Chains as it gave some insight into the life of a slave during a momentous time.

I recommend Chains to people who are interested in historical fiction, slavery and the American War of Independence. If you like Chains, you may also be interested in reading a non-fiction book, the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave Written By Himself which was also very interesting. This was the first in a trilogy and I am eager to read the next book, Forged.
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on 12 June 2013
Learning about American history not only teaches perspective but gives a view of humanity from which, hopefully, lessons can be taken.
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on 14 May 2016
I bought this from Audible when it was on sale. I really wanted to like it, an African-American slave girl at the brink of the American revolution seeking freedom for her and her younger sister - what's not to like? But I just couldn't get into it, I found the protagonist childish and unrealistic, and while I'm aware the novel is aimed at a younger audience I can't truly recommend it as being better than average.
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on 9 November 2013
What a brilliant book with such a let down ending I ploud through this book and really enjoyed it but when I reached the end it didn't seem quite complete. And me being me I like a proper ending. All in all though it is an amazing book.

Tanya (11)
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on 15 September 2013
i would really recommend this book for anyone aged 12 up! as well as being unputdownable it is also very historical and eductional in that way. totally worth the money!xxx
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