just what it sounds like…reading as a religion

Breaking the Chains that Bind Us, or Why Historical Fiction is Cool

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

So, I am going to come right out and say it: Historical fiction is not my thing.  I don’t hold anything against it or anyone that enjoys it—it’s just not my cup of tea.

However, I am being persuaded to drop this bias of mine.  Really, I’ve been a bit judgmental in lumping all historical fiction together.  That’s kind of ridiculous, when you consider the immensity of history.   What I realized is that there are so many different eras and cultures and events and situations in ‘history’ that there are infinite possible kinds of historical fiction, with infinite stories to tell.  When you think about it, that means–in the genre of historical fiction, there is almost certainly something for everyone.  So, what I’m trying to say is:

Don’t judge a book by its cover, or rather, its genre.

In the spirit of forgetting our biases, I will share a historical novel that I read recently.  Maybe, for those of you out there like me, it will open up your mind a little bit.  For the rest of you who quite enjoy historical fiction, you will definitely like this one.

Title: Chains

Author: Laurie Halse Anderson

The Story as It Is: Isabel is a teenage slave in the time of the American Revolution.  Despite being promised freedom upon the death of Miss Mary Finch, Miss Finch’s nephew sells Isabel and her sister, Ruth, to well-to-do Loyalists in New York City.  Isabel is soon faced with a city she doesn’t know, an uncertain future for her and her sister, and a war for freedom that she doesn’t quite understand.  In a world where the future of the nation is at stake in the conflict between British Loyalists and American Patriots, Isabel knows only that she seeks freedom from slavery.  Isabel is overcome by the difficult struggle to determine what is right and, in turn, often finds herself in dangerous situations as she becomes part of the fight on both sides.  In the life of a slave as in the life of a spy, one wrong step can be your end.

The Story as I See It: From the first moment, I was hooked on Isabel’s story.  I felt for her, as if I was right there with her—experiencing all the pain, the suffering, the anxiety, and the fear.  Isabel is unusually smart and thoughtful, knowing just what to do to keep herself and her sister safe.  I couldn’t help but feel respect for her and her cleverness.  I wanted Isabel to rise above her situation, to escape the rough hand she was constantly being dealt.  Because I loved Isabel so much, I became enthralled in the culture of New York during the Revolution.  I was intrigued to learn about the conflict between the British and the Americans from a personal viewpoint.  It felt very real and allowed me to become interested in a historical event which I had previously only been bored by while reading a history textbook.  As the plight of the slave in America is generally associated with Civil War and Abolition, it was really interesting to consider the role of slaves during the Revolution, where they were owned by masters who supported both sides.  It was stirring to read about how slaves felt compelled to share the values of their masters, as they could not be concerned for the fate of the nation as they had to be concerned for their personal well-being.

The Verdict: Even those who claim to not enjoy historical fiction will enjoy this novel.  The story is really original.  It doesn’t feel like anything else I have read.  The character of Isabel is admirable in her cleverness, bravery, and commitment to her family.  Readers will enjoy the excitement of Isabel’s action as a spy for both sides.  I can’t wait for the sequel!


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