Wednesday, June 15, 2016
"Chains": Another YA Historical Fiction Victory for Laurie Halse Anderson
An Important Note: It has taken me awhile to muster the courage to return to my book blog. My loyal friend and office assistant, Loki, passed away on May 26th 2016. I've never had a dog that I loved like Loki, and it has been so much quieter and a little less joyful now that he isn't at my feet every day while I work.
But as in all things, life goes on, and whenever I see the stack of books that I have already read, the pictures of Loki with all those books (he absolutely loved to pose with books because he always got a special treat afterwards. I only had to hold a book and my camera and he would run to a good spot and pose) and have yet to write about, I am reminded that it's okay to move forward even if it hurts a little.
As I have mentioned before, my daughter, Raina and I have our own book club. There are only two members (the two of us), and we try to read a variety of books that we think are worth discussing. A few requirements:
1) the book has to be something we both want to read
2) the book has to be one that neither of us have read (or if I have read it, it was so long ago that I don't remember it)
3) the book has to be substantial enough that we have something to talk about
4) we need to go out to dinner somewhere to discuss the book
For our third selection, we chose Laurie Halse Anderson's National Book Award Finalist, "Chains." Both Raina and I read Anderson's Fever 1793 and loved it, so we thought another glimpse into early American history would be a good bet for both of us. Raina also decided that we needed to have our discussion dinner at the local restaurant, 1776 (clever, right?). Neither of us were disappointed by the harrowing insider's perspective of slavery in 1776 that Chains depicts (or with our dinner at 1776).
The story revolves around a 13 year old slave girl named Isabel and her sister Ruth. When their mistress dies, her will states that the girls whose mother also died are to be set free. Unfortunately, two young slave girls don't have control over their fate in 1776, and their former mistress's nephew refuses to consider that Isabel and Ruth are not property on which he can make a profit. Dismissing the fact that Isabel is able to read and read the will herself, he sells the sisters to a very wealthy Loyalist couple, The Locktons.
To say that the girls suffer under the ownership of Mrs. Lockton would be an understatement. She takes an instant liking to Ruth, but casts her aside thinking she is infected with the devil after she has a series of seizures. As much as Mrs. Lockton immediately likes Ruth, she feels the same in disdain for Isabel and makes it her sole mission to inflict pain and punishment on the independent, headstrong girl.
With heart racing suspense and uncomfortable torture scenes, Laurie Halse Anderson creates the tense world of life from the perspective of a young slave girl caught in the middle of Loyalists and Patriots at the advent of the Revolutionary world. She explores the depths of torment and imprisonment as well as lofty ideals of loyalty and freedom.
Over a sea scallop spinach salad (say that 10 times fast) and a wood fired chicken pesto pizza, Raina and I both agreed that this was a great book that taught us so much about the life of a slave girl. Both Raina and I squirmed when Isabel was publicly branded for trying to escape. We both loved the relationship between Isabel and Curzon which showed that even in the most dire of situations, a friend is exactly what you need. And, we also loved that Mr. Lockton's aunt looked out for Isabel and helped her to survive.
Raina thought that many parts were a bit slow, but ultimately that she really enjoyed this book. She also thought that it was awesome that it took her deeper into the dynamics of the start of the Revolutionary War than what she learned in Social Studies at school. I thought it was an amazing gazing ball into a tumultuous time in US History. What I love so much about Laurie Halse Anderson is her attention to the historical accuracy of her historical fiction. She included quotations from actual documents from the time period that coincided with what was happening in the story. I can't remember ever being engaged in learning about the Revolutionary War when I was in elementary school, but if I had read this book, I am sure that I would have been captivated and wanting more information.
The best part of this book is the action packed ending which really isn't an ending at all because this is only part 1 of the Seeds of American Trilogy. Although we aren't going to choose Book 2: Forge for our next book club book (we both decided that we needed something a little bit lighter for the summer), we both will read it as well as Book 3: Ashes (out in October 2016) because we need to know what happens to Ruth, Isabel and Curzon.
We are rooting for them!