Saturday, April 2, 2011

Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson (2008)

Yet another book that I had passed over, but picked up on the advice of friends. Chains tells the story of Isabel, a 13 year old slave, whose journey to freedom is not smooth. Slavery is one of the topics (along with the Holocaust and Civil War) that I am no longer drawn to, but this book is certainly worth putting aside my reluctance.

I think part of the reason that I found this such an engaging read is that most of the story is set in New York City at the beginning of the American Revolution. So in addition to reading a story of the day-to-day life of a slave in a northern, urban setting, we also get a sense of the beginning of the revolution from a loyalist perspective. Although there are episodes of cruelty there is little of the violent, horrific episodes that and dominate other accounts of slavery.

The ending did leave me a bit dissatisfied. There were two plot lines that were not resolved. I suppose that this leaves the option for sequel open. On the other hand, in some ways leaving these plot elements unresolved is authentic. Life in the 1700's often left questions unresolved. We forget in our modern world that generations past often were often unable to discover what happened in situations removed from their immediate circumstances.

Chains has been recognized by both The National Book Award and Scott O'Dell committees. It was awarded the Scott O'Dell Award for historical fiction. It was a finalist for the National Book Award. Overall both this book and the recognition it has received has confirmed my appreciation of Laurie Halse Anderson as an author. Not only does she write compelling stories, she also has a wide range of topics that she is able to write on. Her historical fiction is as strong as her contemporary realistic fiction stories. Lately, as I read book notes and acknowledgements I am also finding her mentioned as a supporter of several other writers. She is officially on my "watch list." I'll read each of her books as they come out.

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