Young slave's tale of breaking the bonds a fascinating read

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 July, 2010, 12:00am

By Laurie Halse Anderson
Published by Bloomsbury
ISBN 9780747598060

The American Revolution was fought in the latter half of the 18th century when 13 colonies in North America joined together to break free from Great Britain and form an independent country. They wanted to be in charge of their own government and not be controlled by British politicians in London.

Historians estimate that 40 per cent of the people in North America at the time were in favour of breaking away, 20 per cent wanted to remain part of Britain, and the rest were either neutral or on whichever side was winning at any particular time.

The British government wanted to hang on to the American colonies, and in August 1776, an army of 30,000 men was shipped from London to deal with the revolutionaries. There was terrible fighting around New York and the city was filled with troops, spies and ordinary citizens caught up in the middle of the violence.

When the American Revolution broke out, and Americans were fighting for their freedom, 500,000 people in the 13 colonies were literal slaves. Between 1700 and 1775, more than 300,000 Africans had been kidnapped and brought to the New World as workers. As the Revolution gained momentum, many slaves fled their owners and joined the British. The land was in turmoil.

Set in New York at the beginning of the American Revolution, Laurie Halse Anderson's Chains is all about the importance of freedom both for a new nation and for one young girl.

Isabel is a slave to a kind owner on a country farm. When her owner dies, Isabel and her younger sister are sold to the cruel Mr and Mrs Lockton and dragged from their home to New York, just as the British are struggling to keep control of the freedom fighters.

Isabel and her sister are treated appallingly by their new owners. Mrs Lockton even has the initial 'I' burned onto Isabel's face to let everyone know her girl-slave has an insolent personality. After she recovers from the branding, Isabel grows determined to gain her freedom no matter the cost.

Things take a very dangerous turn when Isabel is persuaded by a fellow slave to use her slave status to spy on her owners; Mr Lockton could be in league with undercover agents working against the revolutionary cause. Soon Isabel has information she can trade in exchange for freedom for her sister and herself. She is about to play a very treacherous game where the outcome could be either freedom - or death.

Chains is a compelling, impeccably researched novel with fascinating historical detail and a very real central character. Anderson has certainly packed a lot of colour, fact and detail into her tale of revolution-torn New York, but she never loses track of the personal story she is telling. Exciting and engrossing, Isabel's story will be remembered long after the last page.

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