Review: CHAINS by Laurie Halse Anderson

Savvy Verse & Wit and Scrappy Cat both posted reviews of the read-a-long book, Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson, for the American Revolution Reading Challenge in 2013.  Here’s an excerpt from Savvy Verse & Wit:

Anderson’s young adult novel deftly balances the cruelty of slavery with the sensibilities of young adults, ensuring that the abuse and cruelty is never more than young readers can handle. However, there are some instances that do become graphic, but it is essential to demonstrate the fates that faced a number of slaves, especially those who attempted or even thought about escaping their masters.

Read the full review.

Here’s an excerpt from Scrappy Cat:

I thought the book was well written and I probably would not have read it if it hadn’t been for the read-along, because I don’t usually read young adult books (which this book is).

Read the full review.

***This just in, a review from The Children’s War.  Here’s a snippet:

Isabel is a very strong willed girl and Mrs. Lockton knows it and is determined to break that will and so she is constantly trying to tighten the chains of slavery that bind Isabel.  Yet, it takes a while for the realization that Mrs. Lockton cannot chain her soul to really sink in to Isabel’s consciousness, even though all her actions had always already proven it to be true.

Read the full review.

**Attention participants: Remember to email us a link to your reviews, and we’ll post them here so we can see what everyone is reading!**

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

Today is the end of our group read-a-long of Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson.  Please beware that the answers and questions could contain spoilers.

This week we read Chapters 37-the end, and we hope you’ll leave your comments and/or answers to the questions after the post.

If you’re interested in reading our thoughts on the first 10 chapters, go here.  For Chapters 11-24, go here.  For Chapters 25-36, click here.

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.

Isabel refers to chains quite a few times throughout the novel, and in this section, she says that Mrs. Lockton could not chain her soul.  How true do you think that would be over time — had she stayed in the Lockton household?  In what ways do you think she has been or is still chained?

Serena:  I think that her soul is still free here, even though she’s had a hard time maintaining the hope of freedom.  But I feel that if she had stayed in the household, had not felt the power within herself to read Common Sense or to keep her rebellious spirit alive that she would have become chained in that house.  The house, particularly with Mrs. Lockton in charge, is a dark place that seems to oppress those that live there.  I do think that she’s still chained down by her status as a slave and because of her race, which at this time was a big hurdle to overcome.  She also is reined in by the brand on her face.

What did you think of Isabel’s recapturing her brand as her own, rather than as a burden on her — like how her father held his branding with pride as a part of who he was?

S:  I thought the brand was a chain holding her back for some time, until she decided to grab hold of it and consider it not a brand of insolence, but of her name.  I did think that perhaps she would have taken a hold of the “I” as a symbol of “independence.”  But I think taking it as a symbol of her own name is just as good.

Speaking of names, what did you think about Isabel’s new name, Isabel Gardener?

S:  I really liked the connection of her new name to her past and to her possible future — the planting of new roots after gaining her freedom.

In terms of Lady Seymour, she seemed to be sympathetic toward Isabel and her plight, but it also seems like she still thinks of her property.  Did you have any opinions on her continued views in spite of the war and her daughter-in-law’s treatment of Isabel?

S:  I think she’s probably someone who still thinks of these slaves as lower class than herself and her peers, but that she’s not so elevated as to think of slaves as animals that should be beaten into submission.  While she tells Isabel that she wanted to buy her for her own household, she doesn’t seem inclined to tell her one way or the other if she would have freed Isabel.  Lady Seymour is a conundrum, but I think her behaviors and perceptions would have been common enough at the time.

Finally, what are your final thoughts on Chains?

S:  I really enjoyed getting to know Isabel and her sister, and I’m hopeful that the next book will lead to the location of her sister, but I’m sure Isabel has more challenges to face, especially as the war continues and eventually winds down.  I’m quite impressed with Anderson’s handling of slavery, especially the abusive parts.

(Due to an insanely busy week, Anna and The Girl are a bit behind in their reading and will post their thoughts in the comments once they’ve finished.)

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

Week 3: Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson Read-a-Long

Today is week 3 of our group read-a-long of Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson.  Please beware that the answers and questions could contain spoilers.

This week we read Chapters 25-36, and we hope you’ll leave your comments and/or answers to the questions after the post.

If you’re interested in reading our thoughts on the first 10 chapters, go here.  For Chapters 11-24, go here.

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.

Grandfather at the water pump tells Isabel that she must find her River Jordan.  What do you think he means by that and what are your thoughts on what will be Isabel’s River Jordan?

Serena:  My first thought was go to Lady Seymour.  She can help you out, but with the uncertainty surrounding New York, it’s hard to tell what her salvation will be given the Rebels are losing and the British are claiming they will set free any slaves that join their cause.  I also wonder about Curzon, perhaps he’s her River Jordan, and somehow his involvement will lead her to her sister and freedom.  Then of course, there is Lady Seymour.

Anna:  I’m not sure whether the grandfather had anything concrete in mind given the chaos in the city.  Maybe he meant that because of the chaos, each of the slaves has the opportunity to choose for her/himself what they will do right now.  I think Isabel’s River Jordan will have a lot to do with Curzon.

The Girl:  I think it means to find her freedom and her purpose in life.  I think her River Jordan will have something to do with Curzon and maybe Lady Seymour.

When the fire sweeps through Lady Seymour’s house, do you think Isabel’s actions to save her and her letters and portrait will be repaid later on with the promise of freedom?  Or do you think that Lady Seymour will end up being less influential in Isabel’s story?

S: I think that Lady Seymour as long as she’s alive will help Isabel in any way that she cane, but not so much out of obligation.  It seems that she genuinely feels for Isabel and her situation, and seems to like her.  I’m on the fence about Lady Seymour’s continued influence in the story, especially given her ailments and recent fever.  She’s had a lot to recover from, and it seems like Mrs. Lockton is preparing to ensure her death in any way she can.

A: There is such a striking contrast between how Isabel is treated by the Locktons and how she is treated by Lady Seymour.  I don’t know whether her illness will affect her ability to help Isabel, but I hope that her kindness has been shown for a reason.

TG: I think now that Lady Seymour is ill, she will have less of an influence on Isabel.

As we near the final section of the read-a-long, what are your impressions and how have they changed since the beginning?  Any theories about how it will end for Isabel?

S:  I’ve really enjoyed the dates to keep me apprised of historical timelines, and the historical notes at the beginning of each chapter.  I’ve really liked getting to know Isabel and her struggles, and I find her feisty and strong-willed, which is a great way to be if you’re going to help out the rebels.  Even though she’s waffled about where to stand in the battle between the British and Americans, it is clear that she’s not going to abandon those she knows and even cares for, even Curzon.  As for how it will end, I’m hoping for her reunion with Ruth.

A:  I’m impressed by this book so far.  I think Anderson does a great job setting the scene, and she doesn’t gloss over all of the horrors Isabel would have seen and experienced (except maybe for the sexual danger, as discussed in the first week of the read-along).  I have no idea how it’s going to end for Isabel, but I do hope there’s some closure for her regarding Ruth, if not in this book, then later in the series.

TG: I’m still really enjoying the book, but I’m not sure exactly where it’s going to go, and I don’t want to make predictions.  I just want to go with the flow.

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

Week 2: Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson Read-a-Long

Today is week 2 of our group read-a-long of Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson.  Please beware that the answers and questions could contain spoilers.

This week we read chapters 11-24, and we hope you’ll leave your comments and/or answers to the questions after the post.

If you’re interested in reading our thoughts on the first 10 chapters, go here.

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.

Given that Ruth has been previously described as a simpleton, did you expect her ailment to involve seizures, and had she not been sold, what do you think would have happened to her?

Serena:  Honestly, I did not think being a simpleton would have signified an ailment involving seizure, perhaps a mental incapacity or just a biased opinion that slaves couldn’t learn to read, write, etc.  Had she not been sold by the Locktons, I think that Mrs. Lockton would have beaten her to death out of “fear” as erroneous and superstitious as that fear might have been.

Anna:  Not sure exactly what was meant by “simpleton” in those days, but I didn’t expect the seizures.  I thought maybe she was slow developmentally.  Given Madam Lockton’s belief that the devil is in her, I think she would have beaten her to death.  That Madam Lockton is evil…crazy evil!

The Girl: No, I wasn’t expecting the seizures.  If she wasn’t sold, I think Madam Lockton would have beaten her, maybe even killed her.

Did it surprise you that Isabel was arrested and beaten for trying to escape and destroying Mrs. Lockton’s property rather than for her aid to the rebel cause? Why or why not?

S:  I had expected Isabel to be beaten by her slave owners for spying on them, perhaps being caught by Mr. Lockton when she went to put back the committee list or other activities.  The sale of her sister, Ruth, by Mrs. Lockton must have been shocking, but given her reaction and the perspective of Mrs. Lockton on slavery, it isn’t surprising that Isabel was arrested and beaten for escaping her owner and destroying property.  But I wonder if her running to the rebel soldiers gave Mrs. Lockton any clue as to how entrenched young Isabel is in the rebel cause for freedom and independence.

A: I’m not surprised she was arrested, beaten, and branded for confronting Madam Lockton about Ruth being sold and then trying to escape.  I am surprised that her spy activities haven’t been uncovered yet.

TG: No, I wasn’t surprised that she was beaten and arrested for trying escape because the law at the time gave all rights to slave owners.

As Isabel returns to the Lockton home, what do you expect will happen to her?  Do you expect her to be as outspoken against her owners as she was before or less so?

S:  I would hope that she’d be a little better to keep her opinions and back-talk to herself a little more given the beatings, arrest, and branding — not to say that she won’t express them to herself or even just to Becky.  However, I do think that these events are likely to harden her heart a little more against the owners and possibly reinforce her resolve to aid the rebels in any way that she can, so that the Locktons and people like them can be rooted out of her life and the country.  I see her and Curzon working together even more now.

A: I don’t know if Isabel has the power to hold her tongue, even after what happened to her.  There is a lot of anger boiling within her, especially about Ruth being sold, and I think she is going to do whatever she can to help the Rebels and secure her freedom.  I do think it was a bit convenient that when she confronts Colonel Regan and asks for his help because she helped him that she got that sentence out just before Madam Lockton burst in.  She didn’t hear that exchange and Regan says no more about it, so I think it’s obvious that Isabel will continue spying for the Rebels.

TG: I think she is going to do more spying to try and get revenge on the Locktons.

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

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!

Schedule/Sign-Up for September American Revolution Read-a-Long: CHAINS by Laurie Halse Anderson

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. (GoodReads Summary)

We hope you will join us for the September read-a-long of Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson as part of the American Revolution Challenge 2013.

We will read a handful of chapters every week throughout September, and every Friday, we will post discussion questions here. 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.

Here is the Reading Schedule, Discussion on Fridays:

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)

If you’d like to join us, please let us know in the comments.

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