Times are tough and Sam's family are struggling to get by in emergency housing - a tiny cabin in a city caravan park. In her desperate and dodgy efforts to find extra rent money, Sam stumbles into a ring of crime beyond her worst nightmare. Can she save her family and rescue the maltreated puppies she has uncovered?
Set in present-day West Auckland, this is an uplifting novel for middle grade readers. Author Susan Brock uncovers the world of inhumane backyard breeders, crime and the life of a struggling family. It's quite heart-wrenching and gives readers an insightful look into those who are trapped in a cycle of poverty and crime.
It may be a lot for some children, especially those unaware of the realities others have to face. Brock includes themes such as loyalty, honesty, pride, survival, elder abuse and courage, allowing younger readers the opportunity to develop empathy, understanding and building their social justice skills. I can see this being a candidate for a read-aloud at schools with older primary school children. Publisher Scholastic has wonderful teacher notes available, to help guide readers and encourage deeper thinking. This is definitely a book that adults can use to spark conversations about some tough realities faced by our communities. While the storyline is a bit far-fetched at times, it is a real page-turner. Brocker keeps each page action-packed, and short punchy chapters add to the immediacy of the story.
Sam is a likeable and complicated character. Brocker doesn't shy away from creating a character with flaws, even if they are created by circumstance. Sam's development throughout the story proves that one young girl can really make a difference as she moves from petty crimes for survival to taking down a ruthless criminal.
Caged is a fast-paced, daring adventure story that will tug at the heartstrings, but ultimately end up warming the heart.
Reviewer: Rebekah Lyell