Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson



Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson ISBN: 978-1416905868, Atheneum Books for Young Readers; 1 edition (January 5, 2010)

Plot Summary:

This book relates the story of thirteen year old slave, Isabel, and her sister little sister Ruth. Isabel and her mother and sister were separated from her father, and then her mother passed away leaving Isabel to take care of her mentally disabled sister. Isabel’s mistress, Miss Mary Finch, had written in her will that the two girls are to be set free upon her passing, but at the funeral her nephew claims that there is no will. A letter to Mr. Robert, Miss Finch’s, lawyer would have set the matter straight, but Mr. Robert refuses to take the time to find out the truth. As a slave, Isabel has no way to protest the matter and the two are sold right away to a couple traveling from Rhode Island back to New York. Isabel is told by a maid that Mrs. Lockton, her new mistress, is dangerous and that she beat her last slave girl so cruelly that she broke her arm. Her arm never healed correctly and so she was sold away. Isabel must find a way to save both herself and her sister. Chains is set against the backdrop of revolutionary America.

Critical Evaluation: 

Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains is a wonderful entrance in to the world of revolutionary America. Thirteen year old Isabel is an eyewitness to such historic events as the Colonies declaring their independence and the burning of New York City. As a spy for the rebels, and a slave in the house of a family that are loyal to the crown, Isabel is also witness to a great deal of intrigue. Readers are also invited to contemplate a situation in which colonists are proclaiming loudly that all men are created equal and deserve liberty, but at the same time refusing to free their slaves. Both sides are promising freedom in exchange for help, but in the end, neither side is willing to free Isabel and her sister and Isabel must take matters into her own hands. This book is also a harsh look into the institution of slavery and the brutality that was needed to keep it alive. Isabel’s family is separated and fear of punishment for the slightest offenses is a constant throughout the book. Readers are also treated to excerpts at the beginning of each chapter that feature actual writing from the period. These excerpts inform the reader and also remind us that many of these events actually happened to real people. 

Information about the author:

Laurie Halse Anderson is the New York Times-bestselling author who writes for kids of all ages. Known for tackling tough subjects with humor and sensitivity, her work has earned numerous American Library Association and state awards. Two of her books, Speak and Chains, were National Book Award finalists. Chains also made the Carnegie Medal Shortlist in the United Kingdom. 

Laurie was the proud recipient of the 2009 Margaret A. Edwards Award given by YALSA division of the American Library Association for her “significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature…”. She was also honored with the ALAN Award from the National Council of Teachers of English and the St. Katharine Drexel Award from the Catholic Librarian Association.

Reader’s Annotation:

When Miss Mary Finch dies, thirteen year old Isabel knows that she and her little sister will be freed in her will. Instead, Isabel and Ruth are sold and so begin an odyssey through Revolution America.


Historical Fiction

Curriculum Ties:

American Revolution

Booktalking Ideas:

Imagine you were a slave in colonial times. Now imagine that you had a little sister with a mental disability.

Reading Level/Interest Age:

Grades 6-10

Challenge Issues:


I would make sure that all material was purchased in accordance with my library’s collection development policy and make sure to keep a file containing positive reviews for books that I thought might be challenged. In the event of a challenge, I would actively listen to the parent’s concern and ask if they had read the book. I would then explain why the book had been added to the collection and provide with the reviews and a copy of the collection development policy. I would affirm that they are within their rights to limit what their children read, but that other parents also have the right to determine what their children can read. If all else failed, I would provide the parent with a reconsideration form.

Reasons for inclusion:

This book was the winner of the Scott O’Dell Award


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