Musings on children's and YA literature, the academy, and the relationship between them, from an English professor and mother.

Monday, October 27, 2008


I'm just a little bit annoyed with Laurie Halse Anderson. She's one of the most popular authors I teach in my children's/YA lit class; I teach Speak every year and every single time, someone tells me how important it is to her (usually it's a her). I've had students pass it along to their roommates, to younger kids they're mentoring, to groups they're involved with on campus. Students come to my office, close the door, and tell me how grateful they are for the book and our discussion of it.

So why am I annoyed with her? Annoyed might be too strong. Her new book, Chains, is a terrific read--a really engrossing tale of a young slave girl, Isabel, who gets caught up in the Revolutionary War in New York City. Promised her freedom by her mistress, she finds herself instead taken from her home in Rhode Island to a Loyalist stronghold in New York by her mistress's nephew, who won't honor his aunt's wishes. Isabel is a beautifully drawn character--at first relatively ignorant of the political situation, she is disgusted by the hypocrisy of both sides, who are willing to manipulate and even endanger her for their own purposes.

So, again, why am I annoyed? Because the book is the first of a two-volume series, and I didn't know it would leave me hanging. Sometimes a book leaves you hanging and you forget about it, thinking maybe you'll pick up the second one if and when you think of it--but I spent the weekend talking about this one, recommending it and then adding a brief warning. It's how I felt when I finished The Golden Compass--I turned the page and nearly cried out loud at the irresolution of it all.

But, really, I shouldn't be annoyed. I loved the book, and it really does stop in a logical place. And I think it's a terrific book for middle schoolers, especially ones who are interested in historical fiction. I'm passing it on to Nick next--he loved reading about the Revolution two years ago in his social studies class and is eager for more. But I also recommended it to adults I was talking to over the weekend--we had just seen a documentary, Traces of the Trade, about a New England family coming to grips with its own history of slave-trading, and this novel takes us through some of the same scenery, confronting some of the same issues, as the film. The film takes up the modern legacy of slavery; the novel gives us the contemporary reality of it. I recommend both, highly. And I retract my annoyance, though if the next one doesn't come out soon, I may start feeling it again.


  1. I'm glad to know about Chains so I can wait for the next one to come out before I begin it. I had the same reaction to The Golden Compass...

    The way you talk about your annoyance with L.H.Anderson makes me think of mine with M.T. Anderson. Although I love his book Feed, and it was popular with my students a couple of years ago when I taught it, I was hugely disappointed in the first Octavian Nothing book and have no intention of opening the second one that just came out.

  2. Ah, but I loved Octavian Nothing. I don't have time for the sequel yet, but I'm looking forward to it, and to seeing how differently he and LHA manage the same historical period.