Get our latest staff recommendations, award news and digital catalog links right to your inbox.
Table of Contents
About The Book
“One of the best novels they have ever read.” —Kirkus Reviews
Curzon navigates the dangers of being a runaway slave in this keenly felt second novel in in the historical middle grade The Seeds of America trilogy from acclaimed author Laurie Halse Anderson.
Blistering winds. Bitter cold. And the hope of a new future.
The Patriot Army was shaped and strengthened by the desperate circumstances of the Valley Forge winter. This is where Curzon the boy becomes Curzon the young man. In addition to the hardships of soldiering, he lives with the fear of discovery, for he is an escaped slave passing for free.
And then there is Isabel, who is also at Valley Forge—against her will. She and Curzon have to sort out the tangled threads of their friendship while figuring out what stands between the two of them and true freedom.
“BEGIN THE GAME.”
—GENERAL HORATIO GATES’S ORDER TO START THE SECOND BATTLE OF SARATOGA
THE MEMORY OF OUR ESCAPE still tormented me nine months later.
It did not matter that I’d found us shelter and work in Jersey or that I’d kept us safe. Isabel was ungrateful, peevish, and vexatious. We argued about going after Ruth, then we fought about it, and finally, in May, she ran away from me, taking all of our money.
I twisted my ear so hard, it was near torn from my head.
No thoughts of Isabel, I reminded myself. Find that blasted road.
I’d been looking for the back road to Albany since dawn on account of my former boss, Trumbull, was a cabbagehead and a cheat. The Patriot army had hired him and his two wagons (one of them driven by myself) to help move supplies up to the mountains near Saratoga. Thousands of British soldiers waited there, preparing to swoop down the Hudson, cut off New England from the other states, and end the rebellion.
Trumbull cared not for beating the British or freeing the country from the King. He cared only for the sound of coins clinking together. With my own eyes, I saw him steal gunpowder and rum and salt from the barrels we hauled. He’d filch anything he could sell for his own profit.
’Twas not his thieving from the army that bothered me. ’Twas his thieving from me. I’d been working for him for three months and had no coin to show for it. He charged me for the loan of a ragged blanket and for anything else he could think of so he never had to hand over my wages.
The night before, I’d finally stood up to him and demanded my money. He fired me.
Of course, I robbed him. You would have done the very same.
I stole an assortment of spoons and four shoe buckles from his trunk after he fell asleep muddy in drink and snoring loud as a blasting bellows. I put my treasures in the leather bag that held Isabel’s collection of seeds and her blue ribbon (both left behind in her haste to flee from my noxious self). The leather bag went into my empty haversack, which I slipped over my shoulder as I crawled out of Trumbull’s tent.
I had walked for hours in the dark, quite certain that I’d stumble upon the road within moments. The rising sun burned through the fog but did not illuminate any road for me, not even a path well worn by deer or porcupines.
I climbed up a long hill, stopping at the top to retie the twine that held my shoes together. (Should have stolen Trumbull’s boots, too.) I turned in a full circle. Most of the forest had leafed yellow, with a few trees bold-cloaked in scarlet or orange. No road. Had I been in my natural environment—the cobbled streets of Boston or New York—I could have easily found my way by asking a cartman or an oyster seller.
Not so in this forest.
I headed down into a deep ravine, swatting at the hornets that buzzed round my hat. The ravine might lead to the river, and a river was as good as a road, only wetter. Because I was the master of my own mind, I did not allow myself to believe that I might be lost. Nor did I worry about prowling redcoats or rebel soldiers eager to shoot. But the wolves haunted me. They’d dug up the graves of the fellows killed in last month’s battle at Freeman’s Farm and eaten the bodies. They’d eat a living man, too. A skinny lad like myself wouldn’t last a minute if they attacked.
I picked my way through the brush at the bottom of the ravine, keeping my eyes on the ground for any sight of paw prints.
Not possible. I was almost certain that I was well south of the dangerous bit of ground that lay between the two armies.
Heavy boots crashed through the forest. Voices shouted.
An angry hornet hissed past my ear and smacked into the tree trunk behind me with a low thuuump.
I froze. That was no hornet. ’Twas a musketball that near tore off my head.
The voices grew louder. There was no time to run. I dropped to the ground and hid myself behind a log.
A British redcoat appeared out of a tangle of underbrush a dozen paces ahead of me and scrambled up the far side of the ravine. Three more British soldiers followed close on his heels, hands on their tall hats to keep them from flying off, canteens and cartridge boxes bouncing hard against their backsides.
There was a flash and another Crrr-ack BOOM.
A dozen rebel soldiers appeared, half in hunting shirts, the rest looking like they just stepped away from their plows. Smoke still poured from the barrel of the gun held by a red-haired fellow with an officer’s black ribbon pinned to his hat.
There was a loud shuffling above. A line of redcoats took their position at the edge of the ravine and aimed down at the rebels.
“Present!” the British officer screamed to his men.
“Present!” yelled the American officer. His men brought the butts of their muskets up to their shoulders and sighted down the long barrels, ready to shoot and kill.
I pressed my face into the earth, unable to plan a course of escape. My mind would not be mastered and thought only of the wretched, lying, foul, silly girl who was the cause of everything.
I thought of Isabel and I missed her.
Reading Group Guide
Join our mailing list! Get our latest staff recommendations, award news and digital catalog links right to your inbox.
A Discussion Guide
“We have it in our power to begin the world over again . . . The birthday of a new world is at hand.” —From Common Sense by Thomas Paine
Discuss the outcome of the French and Indian War. How did Britain’s victory over France give the thirteen American colonies cause to seek independence?
Explain what Curzon means when he says that “the freedom could kill us.” (p. 5) How does freedom separate Isabel and Curzon? Curzon makes references to Isabel throughout the novel. When does he miss her the most?
Valley Forge wasn’t a battlefield. Instead, it was a winter encampment for Washington’s army. What types of personal battles did the soldiers endure at Valley Forge? Why is Valley Forge considered the turning point in the American Revolution? Discuss the symbolism of Valley Forge.
Eben is a mere boy when he enlists in the Continental Army. How is his inexperience obvious when he kills the British soldier? Curzon saves Eben’s life by throwing a rock at the British soldier. Discuss why Curzon allows Eben to think that he is a soldier. Why does Curzon feel guilty about lying to Eben?
What other times in the novel is Curzon forced to live a lie because the truth is simply too dangerous? Stealing is the only way that Curzon can survive in freedom. How does he justify stealing from Turnbull? Curzon steals from Bellingham at the end of the novel so that he and Isabel can once again be free. How might he justify this theft?
Explain why Curzon is especially sensitive to Turnbull’s insults in front of Eben and his uncle Caleb.
Curzon enlists in the Sixteenth Massachusetts Regiment, Second Brigade of the Fourth Division of the Northern Continental Army. He becomes Private Curzon Smith, and a tentmate of Eben. Why does joining the army seem the best decision and protection for Curzon at the time?
British General Burgoyne surrendered to the Continental Army at Saratoga. Curzon seems surprised that no one in the Continental Army shames the British soldiers with insults. Why does Eben’s uncle say that the British troops should be honored? How does this reasoning confuse Curzon about the point of war? Discuss how Curzon comes to realize that silence is powerful.
Curzon is the victim of prejudice. He deals with it by remembering something that his father once told him: “. . . a lot of white people have twisted hearts. It prevents them from seeing the world properly and turns them into tools of the Devil.” (p. 54) Who has the most twisted heart in Curzon’s company? How does he spread “poison” about Curzon? At what point does Curzon begin doubting Eben’s loyalty? What does it take for Curzon and Eben to become friends again? At the beginning of the novel, Curzon saves Eben’s life. How does Eben help Curzon at the end of the novel?
Bellingham comes to Valley Forge and recognizes Curzon. What does Curzon mean when he says, “Tho’ I stood in rags and upon frozen feet, I felt much more a man than he?” (p. 149) How does Bellingham deceive Curzon?
Curzon is brutalized by Bellingham. He deals with it by remembering a mythology story that Benny Edwards told about a guy who stole fire from the gods. He was chained to a rock and an eagle was sent in to peck away at his liver. Curzon says, “Now I knew. I would fight the eagle and the chains and that mountain as long as I had breath.” (p. 199) Who is the eagle? What are the chains? What is the mountain that he must fight?
Describe Curzon and Isabel’s reunion. How do they have to learn to trust one another again? How does Gideon interfere with this trust? Explain the role of ghosts in Isabel and Curzon’s final reunion. How does the search for Ruth become a symbol of hope at the end of the novel?
The fifers of the Continental Army played “Yankee Doodle Dandy” as an insult to the British army. Write new lyrics for this song that explain the mood of the Continental soldiers after their win at Saratoga.
The founding fathers of our nation include George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams, Thomas Paine, Patrick Henry, Alexander Hamilton, and Gouverneur Morris. Create a poster titled “Those Who Fathered a Nation.” Include photographs and a thumbnail sketch of each man.
Benjamin “Benny” Edwards is a prodigious reader who believes that his true calling is to be a philosopher. His father, a Tory, kicked him out after a disagreement over the Declaration of Independence. That’s when Benny enlisted in the Continental Army. Read the following story about the Declaration of Independence: http://www.pbs.org/ktca/liberty/chronicle_philadelphia1776.html. Write a letter that Benny might write to his father after reading this article.
The first celebration of George Washington’s birthday was on February 22, 1778, at Valley Forge. Find appropriate poetry, readings, and music that might have been used on that night to pay tribute to General Washington. Share these tributes in class.
Research the role of women during the American Revolution. Explain why some were called “camp followers.” Read about Margaret Cochran Corbin. Find out why the Daughters of the American Revolution had her remains reinterred at West Point Military Academy. Write a tribute to her that could be delivered by the female cadets of the military academy.
- Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (October 19, 2010)
- Length: 304 pages
- ISBN13: 9781416961444
- Grades: 5 - 9
- Ages: 10 - 14
- Lexile ® 820L The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®
Browse Related Books
Raves and Reviews
At the end of Chains (2008), Isabel rescues her friend Curzon from Bridewell Prison and rows away from Manhattan in their escape from slavery. Now, in the second of the planned trilogy, Isabel goes her own way, and 15-year-old Curzon takes over as narrator. Passing as free, he joins the Continental Army at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-78, where, against the most desperate of circumstances, he forges a friendship with fellow soldiers. When he is enslaved again and meets up with Isabel, he and she must once again take liberty into their own hands and find a way to escape. Weaving a huge amount of historical detail seamlessly into the story, Anderson creates a vivid setting, believable characters both good and despicable and a clear portrayal of the moral ambiguity of the Revolutionary age. Not only can this sequel stand alone, for many readers it will be one of the best novels they have ever read. A good match with Russell Freedman’s Washington at Valley Forge (2008). - KIRKUS, September 1, 2010, *STAR
Anderson, Laurie Halse (Author)
Oct 2010. 304 p. Atheneum, hardcover, $16.99. (9781416961444).
Anderson follows her searing, multi-award-winning novel Chains (2008) with this well-researched sequel, also set during the Revolutionary War and narrated by a young African American. This time, though, her central character is male, and the heartbreaking drama shifts from Chains’ domestic town houses to graphically described bloody battlefields. After a narrowly successful escape from Manhattan, former slaves Isabel and Curzon separate, and Curzon is once again on the run. He finds necessary food and shelter as a private with the Continental army, and through Curzon’s eyes, Anderson re-creates pivotal historical scenes, including the desperate conditions at Valley Forge. Curzon isn’t as fully realized here as Isabel was in Chains, resulting in a less-cohesive and -compelling whole. Once again, though, Anderson’s detailed story creates a cinematic sense of history while raising crucial questions about racism, the ethics of war, and the hypocrisies that underlie our country’s founding definitions of freedom. Chapter heads excerpted from historical documents and a long appendix that offers research suggestions and separates fact and fiction add further curricular appeal.
— Gillian Engberg
Second in the Seeds of America trilogy, this sequel to the National Book Award finalist Chains is narrated by Curzon, the slave Isabel freed from prison while escaping her own enslavement in 1777 New York City. Curzon immediately explains how he and Isabel lived in New Jersey for a few months, before she ran away with their meager funds in hopes of finding her sister, a quest Curzon refused to support. Months later, Curzon is doing his best to forget Isabel, though the depth of his feelings is made evident in flashbacks of their time together. After Curzon saves the life of Eben, a young rebel soldier, he joins the army and suffers through the winter at Valley Forge; tension mounts when Curzon's former owner arrives. Anderson includes meticulous details about the lives of soldiers and, with just a few words, brings readers deep inside Curzon's experience ("My belly voted louder than my wits"). Her masterful storytelling weaves themes of friendship, politics, love, and liberty into a deeply satisfying tale that will leave readers hungry for the final volume. - PW, September 13, 2010, *STAR
Gr 6-10–This sequel to Chains (S & S, 2008) opens with Curzon, an enslaved teen who was freed from prison by Isabel, recalling his escape and anticipating the future. After an argument with Isabel about where they should go next, the 15-year-old battles the British at Saratoga and winters in Valley Forge with the Patriots. He reveals many details of the conditions endured by the soldiers during the winter of 1777-1778, including the limited food supply, lack of adequate shelter, and tattered clothing. When Curzon and Isabel meet again, they have both been captured and must devise a plan of escape once again. While the Patriots are fighting for the freedom of a country, these young people must fight for their personal freedom. This sequel can be read alone but readers will benefit from reading the first book, which develops the characters and reveals events leading up to the winter at Valley Forge. An appendix clarifies historical facts and real-life characters. A list of colloquial terms used throughout the novel is appended.–Denise Moore, O’Gorman Junior High School, Sioux Falls, SD
-SLJ Oct. 2010
[STAR] Forge [Seeds of America]
by Laurie Halse Anderson
Intermediate, Middle School Atheneum 297 pp.
10/10 978-1-4169-6144-4 $16.99
Chains (rev. 11/08) ended with slave girl Isabel escaping from 1776 New York with fellow slave Curzon, who takes over the narration in this sequel. Only fifteen, he enlists in the Continental Army in late 1777. His experiences as a young runaway slave during the American Revolution differ greatly from Isabel's; though he lives in fear of discovery, he befriends a white soldier boy named Eben and even gains a sense of patriotism and camaraderie serving alongside other soldiers encamped for the winter at Valley Forge. Unfortunate circumstances bring Curzon and Isabel back together, and it is the struggle to mend their friendship and continue their quest for freedom that drives the latter half of the novel. Anderson seamlessly weaves her fictitious characters into history in a cohesive, well-researched narrative about the Revolutionary War that still focuses foremost on developing characters and their interpersonal relationships. Relevant historical quotes at the beginning of each chapter add authenticity, as does Curzon's firsthand account of daily life at Valley Forge; his detailed narration of privations, inequalities, and hard work compellingly conveys the plight of the common soldier. As one man in Curzon's regiment explains, Valley Forge "is a forge for the army; it's testing our qualities. Instead of heat and hammer, our trials are cold and hunger. Question is, what are we made of?" With this riveting sequel, Anderson certainly passes the test. Cynthia K. Ritter
--The Horn Book, Nov/Dec 2010 Issue, *STAR
Anderson, Laurie Halse Forge.
Atheneum, 2010 [304p] (Seeds of America) ISBN 978-1-4169-6144-4 $16.99 Reviewed from galleys R Gr. 7-10
Curzon and Isabel, runaway slaves in Anderson’s Chains (BCCB 11/08), have parted company—she is headed south to find her sister Ruth, and he finds work driving a cart for Patriot soldiers. An impulsive act of battlefield bravery leads to Curzon’s enlistment as a freeman with the 16th Massachusetts Regiment, and he’s now a tentmate with Eban Woodruff, the young man whose life he saved, and John Burns, a sly bigot who waits for an opportunity to drum Curzon out of the army. Personal animosity simmers as the soldiers encamp at Valley Forge for the winter of 1777-8, but Curzon and his comrades cooperate to make the best of dire circumstances. When Burns rises to the rank of sergeant, though, and Curzon’s legal owner, James Bellingham, reclaims his service, Curzon begins to plot yet another escape. His situation is immediately complicated by the appearance of Isabel, who has been recaptured and sold to Bellingham. Bellingham knows Curzon will withhold his labor, so he threatens to punish Isabel, who already wears a locked metal cuff around her neck, for each infraction he may cause. Desperate but unable to plan a foolproof escape, Curzon and Isabel are blessed by chance and the unexpected aid of Curzon’s old comrades at arms with some slim hope of freedom as the novel ends and they march out of Valley Forge, protectively surrounded by decamping troops. The saga that began as Isabel’s tale loses none of its tension as it switches to Curzon’s plight, and the pair’s situation at the novel’s conclusion is precarious enough to suggest—even demand—another volume. Again Anderson crafts her source notes into a reader-friendly Q&A discussion and appends a glossary of eighteenth-century terms. As one of Curzon’s mates observes, “This camp is a forge for the army; it’s testing our qualities. . . . Question is, what are we made of?” For Curzon and Isabel, it’s sorrow, grit, and a passion for freedom. EB
--Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, November 2010
by Laurie Halse Anderson
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
When Laurie Halse Anderson's novel CHAINS was published in 2008, it became a finalist for the National Book Award and won the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction. The book introduced young people to an important --- and often overlooked --- chapter in American history, as Anderson told the story of the dawn of the American Revolution through the eyes of a young slave girl.
Anderson now continues this work in FORGE, the second book of what will eventually be a trilogy. Here the narrative shifts gears from Isabel to her friend Curzon, a fellow runaway who becomes separated from Isabel but finds safety --- of a sort --- when he enlists as a soldier fighting on the American side during the Revolutionary War. As one of the few black soldiers, he is disrespected --- and worse --- by some of his peers and his officers. With his customary courage, hard work and loyalty, however, Curzon gains the respect and even the friendship of many of his fellow soldiers.
All the young men's fortitude is brutally tested, however, when they are told to report to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, during the winter of 1777 and 1778. As Curzon and his comrades struggle just to survive, Anderson vividly brings to life the horrifying details of life in Valley Forge, unflinchingly documenting the hardships that most high school history books just gloss over. From surviving days without food to digging trenches in frozen ground to trudging through snowdrifts in just a pair of wet, stinking socks, Curzon's story, and that of all the men, will both repulse readers and remind them of the soldiers' remarkable fortitude and bravery.
Besides being a compelling, unfailingly realistic account of the winter at Valley Forge, though, FORGE's story also serves as a powerful metaphor: "This camp is a forge for the army," remarks one character. "It's testing our qualities. Instead of heat and hammer, our trials are cold and hunger. Question is, what are we made of?"
What indeed? Curzon finds himself asking this question and others when his past as a runaway slave starts to catch up with him. By all accounts, he should be freed; he has kept his part of a bargain that he made months earlier. But he doesn't have paperwork showing he's been freed, and if he's revealed as a runaway, hunger and cold will be the least of his problems. One beloved but complicated relationship from his past also resurfaces when he encounters Isabel once more and must deal not only with their shared and separate histories but also with his evolving feelings toward her.
Once again, in FORGE, Laurie Halse Anderson has managed to compose a historical novel that feels both entirely true to its period and completely contemporary. Curzon's voice rings true as that of an 18th-century young man, but its sophisticated narration and storytelling style introduce contemporary perspectives seamlessly in ways that will not only allow readers to reflect on their own times but also to reconsider their understanding of and approach to history. With its extensive historical notes and glossary, FORGE (like CHAINS) would be an ideal classroom companion to more traditional history-book fare, one that readers will likely relish as much for its sensitive storytelling as for its gutsy depictions.
--- Reviewed by Norah Piehl
by Laurie Halse Anderson, *STAR
Forge is the sequel to Chains (2008), but it can be read independently. Anderson has done her research and accurately portrays the horrors of serving in the first Continental Army at Valley Forge. The story within is of slavery in a fledgling nation; the freedom that the founding fathers were fighting for did not extend to their slaves. The hero of the story, Curzon, has already served in the army, but in trying to get away from a cruel master, he is re-enlisted. When his former master reappears, his friends from his squad help him escape, along with Isabel, the heroine of Chains. The book contains an appendix with glossary, further readings, and Q&A about the historical background and primary sources used. Each chapter begins with a quote pertaining to the war or slavery. While the details are accurate, the book is not gratuitously violent. Curzon is an empathetic character to whom most young people will relate. At the end, when Curzon and Isabel escape, the reader can only hope that all will end well in the next book. Laurie Halse Anderson has again written historical fiction at its finest.
--Library Media Connection, Jan/Feb 2011, *STAR
Awards and Honors
- ILA Teachers' Choices
- Horn Book Fanfare
- CCBC Choices (Cooperative Children's Book Council)
- ALA Best Books For Young Adults
- Young Hoosier Book Award Nominee (IN)
- Volunteer State Book Award Nominee (TN)
- Kirkus Best Children's Book
Resources and Downloads
High Resolution Images
Book Cover Image (jpg): Forge
Hardcover 9781416961444(1.8 MB)
Author Photo (jpg): Laurie Halse Anderson
photograph courtesy of the author(2.3 MB)
Any use of an author photo must include its respective photo credit
More books in this series: The Seeds of America Trilogy
More to Explore
Our Summer Reading Recommendations
Red-hot romances, poolside fiction, and blockbuster picks, oh my! Start reading the hottest books of the summer.
This Month's New Releases
From heart-pounding thrillers to poignant memoirs and everything in between, check out what's new this month.