Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

“A body doesn’t like being bought & sold like a basket of eggs even if the person who cracks the shells is kind.” – Isabel, “Chains”

“Chains” is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. The setting is the northern states during the Revolutionary War. A young slave girl, Isabel, believes she and her sister Ruby will reap the promise of freedom when their owner dies. But instead, the two are sold to an evil couple whose loyalties lie with the British. The couple treat the girls horrendously, but of course, there is no such thing as “good slavery.”

Isabel meets a young boy, Curazon, who is involved in the fight for freedom from the British. He encourages her to spy on her owners. She’s reluctant at first, fearing the repercussions of being caught. But soon, she comes to realize that may be the only way to secure freedom for her and her sister. And that’s when the real danger begins as she attempts to break the physical and emotional chains and win her freedom.

I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t think much about slavery occurring in America other than around Civil War times. This book takes place a full century before the Civil War and is written with such precision that I could feel the starchiness of Isabel’s dress; the pinching of her too-small shoes; and the crack of the whip as it seared her unsuspecting cheek. I could smell the staleness of death in Lady Seymour’s room; the rosemary twigs at Christmas carefully positioned throughout the house to mask the foul odors of dirty soldiers; and the wretched conditions of Curazon’s prison cell with the grimy scent of death and decay all around him.

I’m also sort of fan-girling around the author, Laurie Halse Anderson. She’s an alumna of OCC and was one of the very first Alumni Faces Honorees selected by my former work place. I adore her writing and, although I don’t read the “Young Adult” genre often, I am carefully making my way through her brilliant collection.

Thrilled to know the story of Isabel and Curazon continues. I’ve just started the second book and can’t wait to see what happens.