YA Gems

Reading two YA gems at the same time – alternating back and forth -- has its pluses. The Giver and Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains are two YA gems that need no introductions. I loved both for different reasons and am glad that I assigned them as reading for the high school English class I teach.

Chains portrays the turmoil surrounding the American Revolution from the point of view of Isabel, a 13 years old girl held in slavery, who makes a very daring move in the end. The author, Laurie Halse Anderson gave a great talk at the SCBWI conference and is a fanatical researcher. She recreates the 18th Century world down to the make-up used by the aristocratic madam who persecutes Isabel. Isabel reads Common Sense during her off hours, which seemed far-fetched (even if it's a gift), but this lends credence to Isabel's intelligence, curiosity and political involvement. Maybe I just couldn’t imagine that pamphlet (which I was forced to read for a history class at Brown) as it was when first published.

Yet, I loved the unfolding of the Revolutionary War, the way the rebel forces lost at first and then began to win a few battles. This is historical and also works with the story. The author did an excellent job of positioning Isabel's story at a turning point in history, which adds tension and uncertainty. Isabel's personal dilemma exists amid the hope of many for a new nation to be born. I don't want to give away too many details. I highly recommend Chains to teachers, writers and students. It was a National Book Award Finalist and a recipient of the Scott O’Dell Award for historical fiction, after all. Though, it is heart wrenching to read the life of a slave, from this we LEARN so much. Isabel is strong and full of courage and a great role model for young adults, especially young women, today.

Most people are familiar with The Giver – if not, read it. It won’t take too long; once you start, you can’t put it down. Its pace and style are superb. A world of the future unfolds fully realized, except for the ending which seems a bit rushed.

Anyone care to comment on either of these gems?


  1. I read and loved The Giver as a kid, and have re-read it so many times since that when I went to teach it, I forgot how slowly it builds to its ultimate reveals. My students gave me nineteen chapters of, "MISS. This is boring. What are we reading this for?" and then spent the last handful of chapters breathless and on the edge of their seats. It is such a different experience your first time through!

  2. That's interesting. I couldn't believe that I hadn't read it, but I hadn't, so I did. What grade did you teach it in?

  3. Students either love or hate The Giver, but Chains is a really hard sell. Maybe it's the length, but I can only get my most hard core historical fiction readers to pick it up.


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