Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains is one of those books written for young people that I hope lots of grown ups will read too. Fine writing is fine writing, plain and simple, and you’d be hard-pressed to find better writing than this. Chains is for anyone with an interest in the Revolutionary War, who wants a story with guts and heart and an unforgettable central character. I adored this book. It’s about as perfect an example of historical fiction as you’ll find anywhere. Go get it.
After the death of their former owner, Isabel and her sister Ruth are sold to a nasty Loyalist family who take the girls to New York. Once there, Isabel becomes secretly involved with the rebels, offering information about her owners in exchange for the promise of freedom. Of course this bargain does not lead Isabel in the direction she had imagined, and she gets swept into the frenzy of conflict around her. This is a portrait of courage, loss, change and resilience – for a girl, and for a young nation.
I can only imagine the amount of research Anderson must have completed to create a story that feels completely true and is so rich in period detail. I began reading Chains with only a basic understanding of these events, and finished the novel inspired to read more of this historical period. Yet at no point do you feel like you’re reading a history textbook. The opposite of dry fact, here is an unflinching look at a cruel time. Expect Isabel’s story to grab onto you and hold tight till the end. The tone of the story, the strength of the characterization and richness of the setting and history reminded me in style of Geraldine Brooks’s novels, especially of Year of Wonders and March – two of my favourite reads ever.
Chains deserves all the praise it’s getting. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it walks away with The National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. This is why we read people.