Isabel Finch thought she was getting her freedom upon the death of her master, as indicated in his will. Afraid not. Not when a man grabs her and sells her and her five year old sister Ruth to the Locktons. "Madam," as Anne Lockton insists she be called, took the liberty of renaming Isabel "Sal."
Ruth, tortured by fits of epilepsy, a brain tumor, or some similar affliction, is treated as an ornament to be seen and not heard. And when she becomes too much trouble, Isabel must hide her in the basement. One day she disappears, and Isabel rages and runs away; Madam takes the reins and instructs the judge on which punishment she prefers to inflict. Madam elects to sear an "I" for Insolence into Isabel's cheek.
Isabel laments that "Melancholy held me hostage and the bees built a hive of sadness in my soul."
Isabel struggles to control her impulses to grab a kitchen knife and go at the woman who causes so much pain in her life. Isabel heard that Madam's previous girl had her arm mangled by Madam, who then sold her because she considered her to be useless. Madam hit Isabel across the face and shoulder with her riding crop when she suspected that Isabel was engaging in loyalist activities. At Christmas, Isabel was told that her day off began after serving the midday meal, then after she brought in wood and did the dishes.
Isabel can read, and Isabel can understand what Elihu Lockton discusses with other Tories. They talk about things there that they would not speak about in front of white servants. Isabel may follow orders from the Locktons, but she knows that they cannot chain her soul. Isabel retains her spirit.
Chains: Seeds of America by Laurie Halse Anderson, 2008
I like how Anderson has short chapters with the days listed at the beginning of the chapter; each chapter has a poem that illustrates the tenor of the times and prevalent thoughts about race and the war. Since each chapter often designates only one day, and some chapters are labeled with the same day, it really gives the reader a sense of how time seemed to drag in 1776 with all of the uncertainty about the war and leadership of the nation. People were nervous about their own safety being very much in jeopardy because of the fighting.
The cover art on this book is very symbolic and appropriate to the story, which is something that you do not see on all book covers. It is really beautiful and encapsulates the themes of the book. The word ANDERSON is in burgundy and slightly reminiscent of bronze, which is similar to the color of Isabel Finch; she's a spy for the loyalists of the Revolutionary War. The profile of her face is horizontal and she is looking up to the sky with hope. Her arms are raised upward vertically, and her wrists are held together by a cream banner labeled CHAINS. She has a blue bird approaching the left of her wrists with a red and white British flag on its torso, and a red and white striped bird with stars on its neck and head approaches her wrists from the right.
Anderson did research for this book at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture of the New York Public Library, the Bird Library of Syracuse University (my parents have undergraduate degrees from the school), and the New York Historical Society (which has a library and is a great resource for research about Manhattan).
Books by Laurie Halse Anderson