Laurie Halse Anderson
Atheneum, January 2010
The best time to talk to ghosts is just before the sun comes up. That’s when they can hear us true, Momma said. That’s when ghosts can answer us.
Isabel and Ruth are two slave girls who have just been freed by their master’s will. Their mistress, Miss Mary Finch, has just been laid to rest. And Isabel, though nervous, is excited about their future prospects. Unfortunately, Mr. Robert Finch, the visiting nephew, has different ideas. Ignoring their protests that they have been freed in Miss Finch’s will, he insists that they are his property to sell and make a profit from. His. His. His. And the local pastor who witnesses this exchange, Pastor Weeks, well, he supports Mr. Finch in whatever he decides. The girls are told to gather their blankets and shoes and come with him.
These two girls are sold to Mr. and Mrs. Lockton. This wealthy loyalist family owns several properties—one in New York City, one in Charleston, I believe. (It is in the south, that much I know.)
Ruth becomes a favored curiosity for a short while in the Lockton household. Unfortunately, her epileptic seizures bring an end to that status. Mrs. Lockton knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that Ruth is possessed of the devil. And she tries her hardest to convince her husband that the demon-child must go. Her husband refuses, but tells her that the girl can stay out of sight and do her work well away from Mrs. Lockton.
Everyone is hoping that out of sight will become out of mind. Isabel, though accused of being too talkative, does her best to stay in her lady’s good graces. She still dreams of freedom. But she knows that her place is precarious. That Ruth’s place is extremely so. If she wants to stay with her sister, she must be cautious.
But several things tempt Isabel. Freedom. She meets a slave of one of the rebels, Curzon, who promises her that the Rebel Army will reward her if she spies for them. Mr. Lockton is a loyalist. He’s a conspirator as well. Curzon knows that she could bring back juicy-and-vital details to the Rebels . . . if she will be brave enough to risk it.
A nation at war. A young country seeking freedom, justice, liberty. Set in New York City during 1776-1777, the story is vibrant and heartbreaking. It’s a story rich in detail and emotional and powerful in nature. Isobel’s story—her struggles—resonates so deeply that I think this one is a must read. My only complaint about Chains is that it’s one of those cliffhanger books with a big “to be continued” at the end.
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