Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Laurie Halse Anderson, CHAINS

Deeper and richer than LHA's SPEAK and FEVER. For those who enjoyed Jennifer Donnelly's NORTHERN LIGHT, this is an historical YA with a similar feel, and a female protagonist who must negotiate space in the world for herself. Set during the beginning days of the American Revolution, with a slave girl protagonist, the novel raises the question of freedom--freedom for the colonies from British rule and freedom for slaves. The binaries split and reform in this book: black/white, slave/free, Loyalist/Patriot, prisoner/free. 13-year-old Isabel and her younger, epileptic sister Ruth are supposed to be freed when their mistress dies; but her cruel nephew arrives, claims them, and takes them to Newport to be sold. The two girls end up in the household of the Locktons, Loyalists masquerading when need be as Patriots. Madam Lockhart is this book's version of Simon Legree, vicious and prone to hurling cutlery. But portraits of other characters--the boy Curzon, a slave who believes in the Patriot cause; Mr. Lockhart's mother--are complex and well-drawn. Isabel frees Curzon from prison in the final chapter and the book ends with the promise that their adventures will be taken up in her next book: Forge.

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