cover image for ChainsAnderson, L. H. (2008) Chains. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers.


“(America was never America to me.)”

Talk of freedom surrounds Isabel where ever she goes.  It whispers through cracks in the walls and shouts from the street corners.  It breaks down front doors and sends declarations across the ocean to tyrant kings.  Like most everyone else in New England at the eve of the Revolutionary War, ideas like liberty and self determination are a constant in Isabel’s thoughts.  The problem is…Isabel’s freedom isn’t part of this grand experiment that everyone else talks endlessly about.  For Isabel doesn’t long for freedom from laws that come from England, she simply wishes to be free from slavery and the family and colonial laws that hold her captive.

Most classic war stories for tweens ask them to face at least some of the realities and inhumanity of war.  They encourage readers to question if the loss was worth the gain and to acknowledge the sacrifices of the slain along with the achievements of the victors.  Chains takes this one step further and asks tweens to question the popular historical narrative itself, all the while never being overly cynical or dismissive of the hope and desires of the people who lived through this time in history.

In taking us along Isabel’s search for freedom Anderson constantly shows us both how important these ideas are and how hollow many of our celebrated victories really were.  For what is freedom worth if not everyone is deemed worthy of it?  What kind of liberty treats children as property?  What type of hero fights for his own freedom but leaves a child in chains?  Like Langston Hughes “America,” Chains asks its audience to never give up on the dream even as it shows it for the lie it often is.  Reading either is likely to cause tears, but also nurtures hope and compassion.

Best for ages 9-15

Author Website:

Awards: Scott O’Dell Award, National Book Award Finalist


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