Title: The Memory Cage
Author: Ruth Eastham
Published: Scholastic, 2011
Synopsis: Alex's grandfather keeps forgetting things, while Alex tries desperately to forget his past.
Alex is Bosnian and has been adopted by the Smith family. As his beloved Grandfather's memory gets worse, Alex decides to delve into his past and record it in a scrapbook. This has all kinds of repercussions for his family, who are also trying desperately to block out the past.
Star parts: The main characters are lovingly crafted and created. Alex tells the story in first person. Through the key scenes he describes we gain an understanding of the Grandfather's bewilderment and pain. Richard (the Dad) is developed concisely. Leonard is a truly evil antagonist, but you are still given room to understand why he might feel that way and the ending allows him to experience growth. There is no showing in this story. It is the dialogue and action that allows the story and the reader's understanding of the characters.
Another strength of the writing is that clues are littered throughout the story, so that like Alex, the reader is beginning to piece things together. The reader and Alex all gain understanding at the same time, which gives us the reader a very strong emotional link. At the end when Alex realises he also must face the past, I was bawling my eyes out. I won't say anything more about the end, but I felt entirely satisfied (if a little damp) by the resolution.
Black clouds: I had to re-read the first two pages, as seven characters were introduced and I found that a little overwhelming. By the end I still wasn't entirely sure whether Victoria had a place in the book, she didn't do much and didn't move the plot along, but I was willing to put up with her.
I have to admit that I quite like action, so I found the first part of the book a little slow.
Do I recommend it: Yes. When I read children's or YA fiction for personal enjoyment I read fantasy or action, so this was stepping out of my comfort zone, but once the story really kicked in I couldn't stop reading.
With my teacher head on it's a great read for dealing with issues such as Alzheimer's disease, adoption and the concept of peace and conflict. I would recommend it to individual readers who showed interest in any of these subjects and will defintely be lending it to the stronger readers in my class.
Having said that, I'm very aware that Ruth Eastham is a debut writer, and on the strength of the end of the book, this is an author to look out for. I personally, can't wait to see what comes next.
I reviewed this as part of the British Book Challenge. If you would like to sign up 31st January is the LAST DATE TO DO SO!
And while we are plugging British Authors, there is a competition here for Mark Robson's new book The Devil's Triangle here.