Week 1: Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson Read-a-Long

Today is week 1 of our group read-a-long of Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson.  This week we read chapters 1-10, and we hope you’ll leave your comments and/or answers to the questions after the post.

We welcome you to post your thoughts on your blog and provide a link or just type your thoughts in the comments section of the discussion post; whatever works best for you. You can answer our questions or just discuss whatever you found most interesting in each section.

1.  What are your first impressions of the book so far?

Serena:  The character of Isabel seems well drawn, but Ruth is still a bit of a mystery.  The Locktons seems to be stereotypical Tories/Loyalists at this point who handle their slaves like property and little else — meaning they get slapped and beat without much provocation.  Anderson has enabled me to see the horse-drawn carriages and the streets with the dust kicking up and the political tensions leave an immediate impression.  I’m enjoying the novel from the young Isabel’s point of view so far, and I hope we get to know more about Ruth and Curzon.

Anna: I’m enjoying the book so far. I think Anderson does a great job setting the scene, and the characters seem to be well crafted. Already, I feel how the tensions are rising in the city between the Loyalists and the Rebels.

The Girl (Anna’s daughter, age 13):  I really like it.  It intrigued me, and I can’t wait to read more.  There’s a lot of suspense, and I really want to know what happens to these characters, Isabel in particular.

2.  When we meet Isabel after the death of her owner, why do you think she turns to the tales of ghosts to guide her?

S: I think that Isabel hasn’t had the guidance of her mother in some time and is looking for anything to guide her out of the precarious situations she finds herself and her sister in, especially since the will that sets them free goes missing.  Remembering the stories her mother told her about ghosts, she has little choice but to hope that her mother’s ghost will be there to protect them or at least help them choose the right path.  But when that fails, she has little else to rely on but herself.

A: Isabel is still a child, but when she’s with Ruth, she has to be the adult. With her mother and Miss Finch gone, she has no one to turn to. The hope of her mother’s guidance, even in ghost form, is all she has.

TG:  Because, besides her sister, the ghosts are the only thing she has.  It’s sad that her mother’s ghost hasn’t appeared.

3. Once under the control of the Locktons, do you think Isabel has the ability to protect herself and her sister? Just herself? Just her sister? or Neither?

S:  I’m not sure that Isabel can protect herself or Ruth from whatever the Locktons throw at them, especially given the tenuousness of the Lockton’s own place in the New World.  Perhaps she can soften the blows or even take some of the blows for her sister, but Madam Lockton seems like a woman in need of some anger management courses.

A: She is a slave, mere property to the Locktons, and they can do whatever they want to her and to Ruth. Even if she tries to escape, they will likely find her. She can’t stop them from beating or even killing her or Ruth if they want to.  She wasn’t in a position to protect herself or Ruth once Miss Finch died, and whether she can do so under the Locktons is questionable.  I think it all depends on Curzon.

TG: No.  She barely gets to talk to her sister anymore.  I think she’ll manage, though, and eventually find a way to protect them.

4. Do you think Isabel does the right thing by seeking out Curzon with information about the Locktons, or do you think it makes more sense for her to take Becky’s approach and stay loyal to the Locktons, no matter her opinion on the war, in order to keep her and Ruth safe?

S: Honestly, I don’t see that Isabel has another choice by to turn to Curzon with what she knows about the Loyalists and the Locktons.  He’s her only way out, and even though she extracts certain promises from him, he’s still subordinate to the Rebel who could decide not to help her at all.  Her sister is clearly upset by Mrs. Lockton’s hold over her, but Isabel cannot get her to open up about what happens when she’s not around, so the best solution she sees is anything that will get them out and free.

A: I think passing information to Curzon is the only real chance she has for freedom, though that decision could come back to haunt her if the Locktons somehow find out she’s the informant. But she’s powerless otherwise, so this is the only thing she can do at this point to try to change their situation.

TG:  I think it’s smart of her to give information to the Rebels because if she doesn’t, no one else could pass that information on.  It does put Isabel and Ruth in danger, but in the long run, I think it’s the best thing to do.

What did you think?  Feel free to pose your own questions in the comments as well!



  1. here’s my thoughts.http://irenesdesk.blogspot.ca/2013/09/chains-readalong-week-one.html

  2. Here are my answers:

    1. On the one hand I of course hate reading about things like this. But that aside, so far I think the book is well-written. I especially like the chapter headings, giving us historical excerpts of actual thoughts from the time. I’m not sure how old Isabel is, but she doesn’t seem scared enough to be very young. On the other hand, I want her to be young because I don’t want her to be in sexual danger.

    2. I’m with TG on this one.

    3. I don’t think Isabel has the ability to protect herself and Ruth, in spite of my yelling, GET THE KNIVES! GET THEM WHILE THEY’RE ASLEEP!

    4. I agree with all of you; Isabel needs to get herself and Ruth out of there, and besides the knife solution (which of course I favor), Curzon is her only hope.

  3. JIll, I love your knife solution! Why didn’t she take that route! 🙂 Of course we know why…but still… As for the sexual danger aspect, you mention; I’m thinking she might be about 10. That’s my guess or maybe even 8. I hope there is no sexual danger. I, too, liked the historical excerpts.

  4. I think you guys have read ahead. Not sure of her age, but I suspect Ruth is about 5.

  5. Irene, I haven’t read ahead yet; I was merely guessing at Isabel’s age from the way she talks and reacts. I think you might be write about Ruth.

  6. she’s certainly not a submissive slave, is she?

  7. Irene, I agree, she is definitely submissive, which I think comes with her education from her previous owner (learning to read was not something done with slaves very much) and given her young age — and little guidance from her mother about how to act.

  8. The inside cover of my book says Isabel is 13, which I think is on par with her actions and dialogue. I think what makes this book unique for me is the inclusion of the slavery storyline. Granted, I haven’t read too many books set during the Revolutionary War, but I’ve mostly seen it in the context of the Civil War. I think it makes for a stronger story, the parallels between Isabel’s desire for freedom and the Rebels’.

    Irene was saying that Isabel is not submissive, and I have to agree with her to a certain extent. She seems to follow the “rules” for the most part, to keep her and Ruth safe, but she definitely has a willful spirit and a mind of her own, and slave or not, she lets it show, although maybe it is just to us readers.

    Jill, the knife solution would be great, especially given how much the Locktons anger me! I agree that I hope the book doesn’t put Isabel in sexual danger. Maybe it won’t go there since it is a middle grade/YA book?

    Off to read Irene’s and Emma’s posts now!

  9. Anna, I have the paperback, so it doesn’t say Isabel’s age anywhere. But actually I think if she were *younger* than 13 and *then* not get into sexual danger, it would be more realistic. On the other hand, if she were younger, she could not do the things she does. I don’t mean to be focused on that, but as you know, it was a big problem! Anderson is very non-reluctant to show other bad aspects of slavery, so I think you are right that it is necessary to keep this as an MG/YA book.

  10. Yeah, I didn’t look at the flap on the hardcover, I was just making an educated guess. Sexual danger is more likely at 13….hmmm, but I doubt that Anderson will cover that, but I could be wrong

  11. I agree that the sexual danger would be more realistic. I don’t envy the MG/YA historical fiction authors who have to keep things appropriate for the age level but also portray the characters in a realistic way.

  12. I’m a bit behind, but here are my comments, such as they are.

    1. I’ve not read many young adult books, so while I am basically enjoying the book, it seems just a bit simplistic to me.

    2. I think it’s natural for Isabel to turn to ghosts, since she was brought up believing in them. And the ghost of her mother is the only one she has left.

    3. I don’t think Isabel can protect either herself or her sister. She can do a little to help her sister by taking blame for things her sister may or may not have done, but as slaves, their owner can do anything to them, including kill them, with impunity.

    4. I think either course of action has risks, but at least by seeking out Curzon she may have a chance of freedom. But she must be sure the Locktons don’t find out.

  13. Thanks for joining us, Cheryl! I agree with you that YA books can seem pretty simplistic. I like them for historical fiction as a way to get some basic information before delving into the deeper books.

  14. Cheryl, Interesting! I don’t think of it as simplistic, but I read a lot of MG and YA, so maybe I’m just more used to it!

  15. I don’t think this one is as simplistic as some other MG/YA historical fiction I’ve read, but I see where Cheryl is coming from.

  16. […] novels, Speak. I’m a teeny bit behind as the week 1 discussion was posted on Friday on the War Through the Generations site, but I am all caught up now and will be ready for […]

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