Describe the life of slaves in the American colonies in the 1700s. Discuss the difference between a servant and a slave. How did Miss Mary Finch's view of slavery differ from that of most slave owners? Why does Mr. Robert accuse Isabel of lying when she tells him that she read Miss Mary's will? Explain why Pastor Weeks thinks that teaching a slave to read only "leads to trouble."
Mr. Robert collects Isabel and Ruth on the day of Miss Mary's funeral. Why aren't the girls allowed to take personal items with them? Explain the symbolism of the seeds that Isabel hides in her pocket. She plants the seeds, and one day finds that the plants have died. What do the dead plants represent? There is another plant metaphor in the novel. Explain what the mayor of New York means when he compares the rebels to vines.
Role models may be found in real life and in stories. How are Isabel's momma and Queen Esther, from the Bible, her role models for bravery? Discuss the connection between bravery, courage, and fear. What is Isabel's first act of bravery? Discuss her most fearful moments. How is her bravery and courage fueled by her fears? How does she become bolder and braver as the novel develops?
The American Revolution was about freedom and liberty. Mr. Lockton, a Loyalist, thinks that freedom and liberty has many meanings. Define freedom from his point of view. How might the Patriots define freedom and liberty? Isabel has lived her entire life in bondage, but dreams of freedom. What does freedom look like in Isabel's mind?
Discuss why Curzon thinks that Isabel will be a good spy. At what point does she accept his offer? Isabel feels betrayed by Curzon. How is Curzon betrayed by Colonel Regan? At what point does Isabel understand that Curzon's dream of freedom is the same as hers? How does this realization help her forgive him? At the beginning of the novel, Isabel needs Curzon. How does he need her at the end of the novel?
Isabel encounters a woman in the street singing "Yankee Doodle," and realizes that the woman is a messenger. What is the message? Colonel Regan gives Isabel the code word ad astra to use when entering the rebel camp. The word means "to the stars" in Latin. Why is this an appropriate code word for the rebels? How does this word foreshadow Isabel and Curzon's ultimate escape to freedom at the end of the novel?
The mayor of New York, a Loyalist, says, "The beast has grown too large. If it breaks free of its chains, we are all in danger. We need to cut off its head." Who is the beast? Who is the head? Why is Lockton so adamantly opposed to the mayor's proposal?
Isabel says, "Madam looked down without seeing me; she looked at me face, my kerchief, my shirt neatly tucked into my skirt, looked at my shoes pinching my feet, looked at my hands that were stronger than hers. She did not look into my eyes, did not see the lion inside. She did not see the me of me, the Isabel." What is the lion inside of Isabel? What does Lady Seymour see in Isabel that Madam Lockton doesn't see? How does the "lamb" in Lady Seymour help the "lion" inside of Isabel escape?
Explain the following metaphor: "Melancholy held me hostage, and the bees built a hive of sadness in my soul." What precipitates such sadness in Isabel? How does the hive grow bigger before Isabel learns to destroy it?
The old man that Isabel calls Grandfather says, "Everything that stands between you and freedom is the river Jordan." He assures her that she will find it if she looks hard enough. What is the figurative river Jordan in the novel? Discuss all of the tributaries that feed into Isabel's river Jordan.
The bookseller gives Isabel a copy of Common Sense by Thomas Paine. He advises her that the words are dangerous, and that she should commit them to memory. At what point does she understand Paine's words? How does the book give her courage?
What does Isabel mean when she says, "I was chained between two nations"? There are several references to chains throughout the novel. How is the word "chain" used as an antonym to the word "freedom"?
sloleigh, November 24, 2008 (view all comments by sloleigh)
I picked up this book because my daughter is studying the 1700's in her Classical History/Literature class. I was intrigued by the book's subject matter and began reading it myself; once I did, I could not put the book down. I have been raving about "Chains" since I finished it. Even though I found it in the middle reader section, it is appropiate for teens and adults.
The story presents a very vivid picture of life as a house slave during the Revolutionary War, as well as what it was like for Patriot soldiers and prisoners of war. Readers will learn much about the War itself and as well as life during the 1770's in the colonies. I highly recommend "Chains" and am anxiously awaiting the sequel!
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Laurie Halse Anderson, who wrote one of my favorite young adult books, Speak, and won a gazillion awards for it, pushes the entire genre to another level (again) with this Revolutionary War-era novel. You could read tons of long-winded reviews of this book before you buy it, but all you need to know is this: her fantastic, witty writing and similar subject matter will draw the inevitable comparisons to M. T. Anderson's The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, but ultimately it is its own fantastic, solidly grounded book. Bring on the awards.
by Jill S.
"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"Pursuing similar themes as M.T. Anderson's Octavian Nothing, this gripping novel offers readers a startlingly provocative view of the Revolutionary War. Isabel Finch, the narrator, and her five-year-old sister, Ruth, are to be freed from slavery upon the death of their mistress in Rhode Island, but the mistress's unscrupulous heir easily persuades the local pastor to dispense with reading the will. Before long Isabel and Ruth are in New York City, the property of a Loyalist couple, whose abusiveness inspires Isabel to a dangerous course: she steals into the Patriot army camp to trade a crucial Loyalist secret in exchange for passage to Rhode Island for herself and Ruth. But not only does the Patriot colonel fail to honor his promise, he personally hands her over to her Loyalist mistress when she runs away, to face disastrous consequences. Anderson (Speak; Fever 1793) packs so much detail into her evocation of wartime New York City that readers will see the turmoil and confusion of the times, and her solidly researched exploration of British and Patriot treatment of slaves during a war for freedom is nuanced and evenhanded, presented in service of a fast-moving, emotionally involving plot. Ages 10 — up." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
A tale of pirates, mutiny, and friendship on the high seas, perfect for fans of The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle
It is 1662, and twelve-year-old Petra sees only one way to escape her abusive father: She stows away on a merchant ship bound for the East Indies. But she quickly realizes that surviving for months at sea will be impossible without help. So when Bram, the illegitimate, half-Dutch / Half-Javanese son of the ships carpenter, finds her hiding spot, Petra convinces him to help her stay hidden . . .and help disguise her as a boy.
If Petra is discovered and exposed as a girl, she could be tossed overboard, or worse . . . returned to her father. And if Bram is exposed for helping her, he could lose the only home—and family—he has. And so as tensions rise on the ship, with pirate attacks, illness, and even mutiny, both Petra and Bram must make impossible decisions about friendship, loyalty, freedom, and survival. Told in alternating voices and filled with secrets and intrigue, this action-packed, richly researched novel is historical fiction at its best.
If an entire nation could seek its freedom, why not a girl?
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.
From acclaimed author Laurie Halse Anderson comes this compelling, impeccably researched novel that shows the lengths we can go to cast off our chains, both physical and spiritual.
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