Chains – book review

by Laurie Halse Anderson
Historical Fiction
* * * Stars (Pretty good)

It’s 1776 and Isabel Finch (who later becomes Sal Lockton) and her younger sister Ruth are sold to the Locktons when their owner passes away. They were to have been freed under the terms of the last will and testament of their owner, but with no copies of the document to prove it, the girls are stuck. The Locktons take them to New York to serve in their household, where the girls quickly learn how cruel their new Mistress can be. She separates them, then, when she learns Ruth is prone to fits, sends Ruth away. Isabel is devastated. The Locktons are Loyalists, and there are all kinds of rebel activities taking place in the city. Sal meets another slave boy, Curzon, who tells her that the rebels can help her and her sister escape from the Locktons, so for a time she acts as a spy for the rebels – taking them what information she gathers from Master Lockton’s secret meetings with his Loyalist cohorts. But when Sal is discovered, the rebels do nothing to save her or her sister. Sal is imprisoned, punished (branded with an ‘I’ for insolence), and then returned to her owner, who seems to delight in her torment. Soon after, the rebels are expelled from the city, and the Loyalists take over. Sal hears that Loyalists will free any slaves who are willing to work for them, but when she offers her services, she is told that they are only taking rebel slaves (they have no desire to alienate Loyalist slave owners). Thereafter, Sal vows not to involve herself in politics – neither side has any interest in *her* cause. Time passes and she is forced to reexamine her decision when she learns that Curzon has been imprisoned. She begins bringing him (and the other prisoners) food and sees to it that they receive medical attention and blankets. She also, occasionally, carries messages to them from their commander. It’s another situation that gets her in trouble. When she’s burned all of her bridges with the Locktons, and when it seems that the rebels may be turning the conflict around to their advantage, Sal breaks Curzon out of prison (hides him in a cart), and together they cross the river into New Jersey – hopefully to a new life. It took me a few pages to get into this book (the beginning is a little slow), but I found myself caught up in Sal’s life. Well, mostly outraged on her behalf at the injustices and abuse she suffered under the “care” of her new owners. What despicable people. There’s some information that suggests that Madam Lockton is just as much a victim of abuse as she is a perpetrator – her husband beats her, and she’s caught in a marriage that doesn’t seem to hold much affection. She’s also trapped in a place (the New World) she clearly doesn’t want to be (Great Britain would be ever so much more to her liking). It’s really no excuse, however, for her behavior toward Sal and the other servants. I kept hoping for a fairytale ending, and although Sal does escape, there’s no certainty that it will be permanent or that her life will be any better – there’s a war on and they’re not exactly running away from it. The sequel to this is called Forge and will be out in October of 2010.

Reviewed by YA Librarian

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