Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson.
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: NY, 2008.

After the death of their sickly master, Isabel and her sister Ruth are sold to a couple residing in New York City, at the outset of the American Revolution. They are promised freedom upon her death, so Isabel cannot accept their status. More difficult tasks fall to her, such as hauling water from a town pump and running errands, enabling her to meet other slaves in the community. A friend, who early on helps her in her distress, works for Patriots and asks her to pass on information within her household. Her household is staunchly Loyalist.

The story portrays the strife between factions and the change in power within the area. There is exploration of ideas of slavery and freedom. For example, the British announced that slaves of Patriots would be set free, but those of Loyalists would not be. Some, who might have helped Isabel in her plight, withheld support, because of strict rules on the subject. Isabel bides her time to achieve freedom, but is unsure of the best approach.

Isabel is a stronger character than slaves tend to be in novels. She tolerates the intolerable in order to protect her sister, but she does not accept her circumstances. She is conflicted regarding freedom versus the reality she lives. She has moments of independence and rebellion, but suffers consequences for them.

Isabel's strength and thought, the spying on the British, the power shifts, and the devastating fire and circumstances are aspects which show a different handling of the theme. Despite the subject, it is a light and compelling read.

Compare with M. T. Anderson's equally compelling, though heavy and dark, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation. Years ago, before I started reviewing books, I read The Spy by James Fenimore Cooper. This would also be a challenging read, but it offers yet another take on the Revolutionary period. Like Chains, The Spy is set in New York, but a different area, not in the city. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing is set in the Boston area.

Chains is the 1st of a trilogy called Seeds of America. I'm excited about reading the next book Forge, and the 3rd Ashes is expected in 2014.

related-freedom, slavery, American Revolution, 1776, New York history, spying, United States history, African Americans

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