(This post is from Eliza. The posts are all tagged at the bottom with the author, but because I made this theme on the Wordpress Theme Generator, I have no idea how to make them always show easily the author besides adding a tag. Man, that was a bad sentence. In any event, if you're ever in doubt about who wrote something, you can look in the tags. It'll usually be me, but sometimes it'll be surprise! someone else. Like now, when Eliza's plowing through all the NBA nominees.)
Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson is absolutely fantastic. It is both historically fascinating and extremely suspenseful, and it has a kick-ass heroine to boot. The book is truly a fine literary achievement, and I am as pleased as punch that there is reportedly going to be a sequel.
You care about the protagonist, a young slave girl named Isabel, from the get-go; the book begins with the death of her owner, and you are horrified to learn that the owner's dying wish that Isabel and her sister be freed is blatantly ignored.
From then on, you are in Isabel's corner as she is transported against her will from Rhode Island to New York City and have her back if she is someone you know personally.
You are both terrified for her and awed by her on every page as you follow her story, set against the backdrop of the American Revolution, while the city and the course of Isabel's own life begin to burn and crumble around her.
Other than Isabel's overall awesomeness -- in her defiance of her captors, her fierce protective love for her sister, her courage in sneaking around the dark city streets as a spy, and her undying loyalty to her closest friend -- the book's greatest strength is its attention to detail, which plunges you deeply into the world of the book. You feel like you can smell and taste and hear the homes and streets and jail cells and docks of New York in 1776.
Every character is finely drawn, from Isabel and her sister, Ruth, to their wretched owners, a kind elderly woman who takes a shine to Isabel, a young imprisoned Patriot, and the men running the show on either side of the war. (As much as you love Isabel, you might hate her owners even more, and that kind of loathing for a villain always draws me into a story.)
The stakes are so high in this book that it's basically impossible to put down; I felt like I was holding my breath the entire time.
A nice touch is the inclusion of brief excerpts of historical letters written by people like Abigail Adams and newspaper articles of that day to set the tone at the beginning of each chapter.
The novel is highly cinematic -- it cries out to be adapted for the big screen, and I will be shocked if this is not already in the works. It absolutely swept me away.