Christmas in New York, 1776

“The holly-bits were tied with pine branches and set on the sills of the street-facing windows. Glass bowls of red berries were set on small tables in the drawing room, library, and the front parlor. Madam had two soldiers hang a ball of mistletoe in the front hall. This provided great merriment amongst the men and some blushing on the part of their wives.

I had never seen a house decorated with tree branches to celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus, but it did pretty up the place. The best was when Madam told us to hang dried rosemary throughout; that cut right through the lingering stench of boots and belching.

In keeping with tradition, I was to have Christmas Day free from work. I pondered hard on what I should do with so many hours for myself. Christmas at home had meant eating Momma’s bread pudding with maple syrup and nutmeg, and reading the Gospel of Matthew out loud while Ruth played on Momma’s lap. I was miles away from celebrating like that. I tried to bury the remembery, but it kept floating to the top of my mind like a cork in a stormy sea, and foolish tears spilled over.”
~Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

I tried to read Laurie Halse Anderson’s much acclaimed novel about a slave girl’s life during the American Revolution several months ago, but I couldn’t get interested in it at the time. Now I’m reading it again, and it’s going much better this time. I keep being reminded of the Octavian Nothing books and of how slaves at the time of the Revolution couldn’t really get help from anyone. The American rebels, with all their talk of “liberty” and “all men are created equal,” really meant only white men deserve liberty and are created equal, and the British didn’t abolish the slave trade in the empire until 1807. They didn’t abolish slavery itself in the British Empire until the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833. Neither the Continental Army nor the His Majesty’s Biritsh forces wanted to do anything about slavery other than use escaped slaves from the the enemy’s households to fight against the other side.

As I said about Octavian Nothing, I believe Chains is more appropriate for older children and for young adult reading. I wouldn’t give it to anyone under the age of 12, at least, since it portrays slavery in all its horrors and brutality. However, for young people who want a compelling picture of what slavery was like in story form, Chains is a good choice and a bit easier to understand than Octavian Nothing.

Semicolon review of the two volumes of The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson.

Bloggers on Chains:
The Reading Zone: “Isabel’s voice rings true to the times, without being overwhelming. The book reads like a story set in 1776 without being dry or difficult to understand. In historical fiction that is extremely important. If kids feel overwhelmed by dialogue, accents, or vernacular it is that much harder to get them to read and enjoy the book.”

Librarilly Blonde: “We see what Revolutionary War New York looked like through Isabel’s simple yet vivid descriptions of everyday life. Isabel herself is neither maudlin nor emotionally detached from both the good and the bad things that happen to her. She’s a heroine who doesn’t see herself as heroic; she only does what she believes is right.”

Book Nut: “Anderson doesn’t write down to the reader; the book is quite brutal at times. That’s not to say the book is harsh. Rather, interspersed with all the brutality are moments of absolute poignancy. The book just about ripped my heart in two at parts.”

2 thoughts on “Christmas in New York, 1776

  1. Pingback: Preview of 2011 Book Lists #4 | Semicolon

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