Posts Tagged ‘laurie halse anderson’


Source: Public library
Rating: ★★★★☆

Yes, she could hurt me.  She’d already done so.  But what was one more beating?  A flogging, even?  I would bleed, or not.  Scar, or not.  Live, or not.  But she could no longer harm Ruth, and she could not hurt my soul, not unless I gave it to her.

(from Chains, page 247)

Chains is the first book in Laurie Halse Anderson’s Seeds of America series set during the Revolutionary War.  The novel follows 13-year-old Isabel, a slave denied the freedom promised to her and her younger sister, Ruth, when their owner died.  The girls are sold to a Loyalist couple, the Locktons, and taken to New York City shortly before it is invaded by the British in 1776.

Isabel is determined to secure their freedom, and she foolishly believes a fellow slave, Curzon, when he tells her that his master would be able to help in exchange for information about the Locktons’ involvement in plots against General Washington and his troops.  When Ruth is sold and shipped to the West Indies, Isabel finds herself locked in a battle with the cruel Madame Lockton — a war as fierce as the one being fought between the Patriots and the British and every bit as deadly.

Anderson’s novel is geared toward middle-grade readers, but there is much for adults to admire as well.  The passages from relevant historical documents at the beginning of every chapter were informative and paved the way for further research.  Anderson doesn’t sugar-coat the cruelties of slavery and war, but she doesn’t go overboard with graphic descriptions either.  The punishment inflicted on Isabel at the request of Madame Lockton is horrific, yet it emphasizes Isabel’s status as property and makes her evolution into a strong young woman who reclaims her scar for herself all the more satisfying.

Chains is a novel rich in historical detail, from the confusing plight of slaves in choosing sides to the vivid description of the fire that tore through the city, leaving hundreds homeless as winter approached, and the deplorable conditions endured by the Rebel prisoners after the invasion.  Anderson brilliantly tells the story in the first person point of view of Isabel, which not only lets readers get to know and care about her but also allows for an objective portrayal of both the Americans and the British, neither of which were the “good guys” when it came to the treatment of slaves.  Isabel’s strength carries the book forward at a brisk pace, making it somewhat disappointing when this installment ends without a satisfying sense of resolution.  But that’s okay because the second book in the series, Forge, is waiting patiently in my to-read stack.  I can’t wait to see where Anderson takes Isabel next.

Book 3 for the American Revolution Reading Challenge

historical fiction reading challenge

Book 36 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I borrowed Chains from the public library.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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chainsSerena and I are hosting a read-along of Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson in September for the War Through the Generations American Revolution Reading Challenge.  You don’t have to be taking part in the challenge to join us for the read-along.

As the Revolutionary War begins, thirteen-year-old Isabel wages her own fight…for freedom.  Promised freedom upon the death of their owner, she and her sister, Ruth, in a cruel twist of fate become the property of a malicious New York City couple, the Locktons, who have no sympathy for the American Revolution and even less for Ruth and Isabel.  When Isabel meets Curzon, a slave with ties to the Patriots, he encourages her to spy on her owners, who know details of British plans for invasion.  She is reluctant at first, but when the unthinkable happens to Ruth, Isabel realizes her loyalty is available to the bidder who can provide her with freedom.

From acclaimed author Laurie Halse Anderson comes this compelling, impeccably researched novel that shows the lengths we can go to cast off our chains, both physical and spiritual.  (publisher’s summary)

Here’s the schedule:

Sept. 1-6: Chapters 1-10

Sept. 7-13: Chapters 11-24 (end Part 1)

Sept. 14-20: Chapters 25-36

Sept. 21-27: Chapters 37-45 (the end)

Discussion questions will be posted on War Through the Generations each Friday during the month, and you can answer them on your blog or in the comments…or pose your own questions or chat about whatever catches your fancy.  It’s up to you!

If you’re interested in participating, please sign up in the comments on this post.  We hope you’ll consider joining us!

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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It is getting harder to talk.  My throat is always sore, my lips raw.  When I wake up in the morning, my jaws are clenched so tight I have a headache.  Sometimes my mouth relaxes around Heather, if we’re alone.  Every time I try to talk to my parents or a teacher, I sputter or freeze.  What is wrong with me?  It’s like I have some kind of spastic laryngitis.

I know my head isn’t screwed on straight.  I want to leave, transfer, warp myself to another galaxy.  I want to confess everything, hand over the guilt and mistake and anger to someone else.  There is a beast in my gut, I can hear it scraping away at the insides of my ribs.  Even if I dump the memory, it will stay with me, staining me.  My closet is a good thing, a quiet place that helps me hold these thoughts inside my head where no one can hear them.

(from Speak, pages 50-51)

(I already knew what this book was about before picking it up, and it didn’t affect my reading at all.  It’s hard to discuss the important aspects of the book without giving away what happens to the main character.  It’s probably common knowledge, but I just wanted to warn you all up front.)

In Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, Melinda Sordino begins her freshman year of high school — a confusing and scary time for teenagers — as an outcast.  After being raped at an end-0f-summer party, Melinda calls the police, and not knowing what happened, her friends and other students are mad at her for breaking up the party and causing some of them to be arrested.  Not sure how to deal with the rape, Melinda turns inward and stops speaking unless absolutely necessary.  It’s an easy thing to do since no one in school is talking to her anyway — unless you count the new girl, Heather, who sees Melinda as someone to hang out with while she searches for the right clique — and her parents are pre-occupied with work and maybe some marital problems.

Melinda understandably becomes depressed.  Her grades plummet, she skips class, and she gets in trouble with teachers.  She carves out a private space in an old janitor’s closet, which further highlights her withdrawal from the world.  Her only refuge is art class, where Mr. Freeman (appropriately named) recognizes Melinda’s talent and encourages her to express herself.

Her parents’ reaction to these changes is especially sad.  They see their daughter go from having good grades to failing her classes, and one would assume they would notice that she no longer has friends.  Not to mention the fact that she no longer speaks.  Rather than reach out to Melinda, her mother says she doesn’t have time for this.  Her parents are concerned to a point, but it felt more like annoyance and exasperation to me, though that might be Melinda’s perceptions.

Written in the first person, Speak allows readers to feel Melinda’s pain, her struggle between the part of her who wants to wallow in sorrow and the part of her who wants to live again, and the intense fear when she encounters “IT’ in the hallways or around town. Speak has been banned because it’s about a teenage rape victim.  I can understand that such a topic may make parents uncomfortable, but we have to accept the ugly fact that Melinda may be fictional but her story rings true to many young girls.  Anderson does not write the rape scene in a graphic manner, managing to pack a punch in a very short paragraph with little description.

Why would people want to pull from the shelves a book that could empower a girl in Melinda’s situation, give her some comfort, encourage her to tell someone about her pain, and seek help?  I understand the need to shelter our daughters and sons from the hurts of the world as much as we can, but censorship does not accomplish that.  Speak should be used to start a dialogue with teens, and you can be sure I will recommend it to my daughter when she’s a bit older.

Disclosure: I borrowed Speak from my local library. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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