The Memory Cage by Ruth Eastham

In this, Ruth Eastham’s very impressive debut novel for children/young teenagers, she takes on a variety of “big” themes, all of which revolve around suppressed memories and the risks involved in unravelling them.

Our narrator is young Alex (Alexandru) who was adopted by an English family, 6 years previously, having been orphaned during the Bosnian War.  It is clear that Alex has not come to terms with the trauma which preceeded his adoption and that this is hindered by his older sibling, Leonard who take great pleasure in bullying him, calling him “Bosnia Boy”" and “Charity Case”.  In the midst of all this, Alex and Leonard’s grandfather keeps on forgetting things and Alex has overheard his parents discussing putting William, the grandfather, into a home.  Alex takes on the mission of helping William to remember the past, especially events which took place during World War II, in the hope that, by remembering, William will avoid being taken away from the family.

As the story unfolds, we gradually come closer and closer to the truth, both for William and Alex, and such revelations are destined to come at a high emotional cost for all the family members and indeed for friends and neighbours too.  I thought the characterisation was spot on.  Alex is a sensitive, young chap, who, on the surface, seems unscathed by past events.  The family dynamic is also portrayed very well with an array of siblings, all with their own distinct personalities and busy parents who are trying to hold everything together despite William’s obvious deterioration.  Alex assigns himself the daunting task of trying to “fix” things and, in so doing, uncovers a veritable nest of vipers but it quickly becomes evident that, in order to “heal”, the hurts of the past must be confronted.  Perhaps his investigations are part of a displacement technique to avoid confronting his own demons, but his heart is most definitely in the right place.

I was extremely impressed by this debut novel which is on a par with Michael Morpurgo’s best work, high praise indeed in a market where many try to emulate the “master” but inevitably fail miserably.  I will be passing on my copy to my children and will highly recommend it to librarians and our local primary and secondary schools.  This is most definitely a classic in the making and  I will be keen to see what Ruth comes up with next!

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  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Scholastic UK and Mia Jade Fergusson, Teresa Majury. Teresa Majury said: @scholasticuk Here's a link to my review of The Memory Cage A fabulous debut novel and a classic in the making. :-) [...]

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