Isabel is a thirteen-year-old slave whose owner, Miss Mary Finch, has died. In her will, Miss Finch granted Isabel and her five-year-old sister, Ruth their freedom. However, lacking documentation from the aunt’s lawyer, Miss Finch’s nephew sells the girls to a wealthy New York couple who are loyalists. Determined to obtain freedom for her sister and herself at any cost, Isabel agrees to spy for the rebels hoping that she can trade information for their freedom. However, Isabel quickly finds that the freedom prized by the Americans does not apply to slaves. When Isabel’s cruel new mistress sells her sister, her need to gain her freedom becomes more desperate. Without her freedom, she will never see her sister again.
While Chains is a work of fiction, Anderson uses primary sources such as diaries, letters, newspaper articles, runaway ads, cookbooks, and military reports to provide the historical backdrop for her novel. Each chapter begins with a quote from one of these sources lending both authenticity and context to the chapter’s events. Anderson’s attention to historical detail also breathes life into the setting and characters. Isabel is a survivor whose convictions and fortitude elicits true empathy as she describes not only her cruel and inhumane treatment but that of rebel prisoners, and indentured servants As she fights to find a way to save her sister and herself, it is impossible not to connect with this character and her fight to gain freedom.
I loved everything about this book. Having taught American history, I was familiar with many of the events that took place in New York and appreciated the references to primary sources. Anderson did a fantastic job of showing how the American Revolution’s fight against British tyranny paralleled the oppression that Blacks faced. Above all Isabel's character is so well-drawn that her fight for freedom becomes your fight. Unfortunately, you will have to wait for the sequel, which will be out sometime this year to find out what happens to this young heroine. I strongly recommend you put it Chains on your list of must reads.
Rating: 5 Cherries