Break Your Chains is the first book in The Freedom Finder series, a collection of seven books being planned by Allen and Unwin designed to give readers insight into the experiences of migrant and refugee children. The author, Emily Conolan, has drawn on her family history and her work as a refugee advocate to write stories that explore the life-or-death choices that children may face when they are fleeing danger or travelling to a new land. They explore contemporary perspectives on history, politics, choice, agency and free will in an honest and succinct way. The series is labeled as ‘choose your own destiny’, and is in the style of a choose-your-own-adventure series.
I have fond memories of choose-your-own-adventure books as a child. Break Your Chains lived up to my expectations. The reader is cast as the protagonist. The book is written in second person to describe how the story unfolds around the reader and periodically bring the reader to a point where a decision must be made between two actions. Sometimes the reader can elect to read additional information about the historical context before making a choice. Once the reader has made their decision, they turn to the specified page to continue the story and read about the consequences.
In Break Your Chains, the reader is cast as a thirteen year old Irish girl, who fled Ireland with her mother after her Father was imprisoned and is living on the streets of London. The book is set in 1825 and explores the environment in London during this time, the penal system and the experiences of convicts who were bought to Tasmania to serve their sentence.
Although marketed as Middle Grade fiction, Break Your Chains may be placed on the year 6-7 shelf in primary school libraries. There are a couple of concepts that might not be appropriate for eight year olds, such as humans being taken and used as live specimens for medical research and the fact that young female convicts were rarely assigned to a male master due to a need to protect young women from potentially predatory men. Also the depth that the books explore history is deeper than the school curriculum for year 3 class. The protagonist is thirteen years old at the start of the book and ages through the book, which would be more consistent with young adult. The style and language is consistent with middle grade fiction or early young adult fiction. The topics of social justice, politics, agency and choice are issues that both older middle grade and young adult readers are interested in. It is difficult to assign a specific classification as both middle grade fiction and young adult fiction cover such a diverse age range. The book would be an interesting addition to Australian History lessons. It is also a good resource to demonstrate writing in the second person.