Thursday, July 23, 2020

Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson

Isabel Finch is a young slave living in Rhode Island at the time of the Revolutionary War. Her mistress has just died, leaving the question of where Isabel and her younger, developmentally delayed, epileptic sister, Ruth, will go. Isabel claims that her mistress wrote in her will that she would free Isabel and Ruth at the time of her death, but the will is nowhere to be found.

Isabel and Ruth are sent to live with their new owner, who immediately sells them to a rich Loyalist couple living in New York. They are brought to New York in a ferry, and while unloading their master's luggage they meet Curzon, a young slave boy owned by a Patriot (a colonial rebel).

Isabel is told by her master, Elihu Lockton, to fetch water from the pump. Since Isabel doesn't know where the pump is, Curzon offers to guide her there. Once they are out of earshot, Curzon tells her that she may hear things in the Lockton household. Since the Locktons are rich Loyalists, they will probably be scheming against the rebels, which, at the time, would be a reason for arrest. Curzon asks her to inform him if she hears anything, explaining that since she's a slave, certain things might be said in front of her that wouldn't be said in front of white servants.

Isabel fetches the water and ponders Curzon's request for a while. Helping him could mean separation from Ruth if she is caught. She could be beaten, sold, branded, or worse. But it's the thought of losing her sister that terrifies her.

Roughly a week later, Isabel (now renamed "Sal" by her master) hears that Mr. Lockton is having a few friends over for dinner. Sal is ordered to serve them. She brings the food and wine and hears them talking about the war. It is clear from what they are saying that they are all Loyalists, and may be plotting something. Sal decides to listen from her spot in the corner of the room where she had been ordered to stand until she was needed. When she returns to the room after being sent to the kitchen to get some more food and wine she hears them talking about bribing the rebel army to switch sides and join the British army. She peeks in and sees Mr. Lockton holding a fistful of cash.

Sal decides to visit Curzon and inform him of this plot. But from that moment, Sal has to be very careful. Any slip-up will come back to her, the informant. Things get really tense for Sal, really quickly. Ruth is sold by the master's wife, who believes her to be possessed by the Devil. Sal attempts to escape, and is branded with the letter I for the crime of insolence toward her mistress. Sal makes a silent vow that night that she will find Ruth and bring her home, no matter what it takes.

This novel is one of many books by Laurie Halse Anderson that I own. Her novels cover a wide range of settings and topics, but all are emotional and heartfelt. Chains is followed up by Forge, which is told from Curzon's point of view. Ashes is the third book in the trilogy. I have not read the next books yet, but plan to.

Recommended for 9+, this is a wonderful and captivating read for most historical fiction lovers (it feels like it is written for a younger reader). For me, it lacked a little something, at least in comparison to some of the other historically-set YA fiction novels I've read and loved. I liked it, but I can't say I loved it. Still, I will read the sequels because I want to see where it all goes! If you read the book, or have read the book(s), leave a comment and let me know what you think!