The Memory Cage by Ruth Eastham

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The Memory Cage by Ruth Eastham

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Luci Davin
Reviewed by Luci Davin
Summary: Alex has promised his grandfather that he won't let him be put in a home - but how can he keep that promise?
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 240 Date: January 2011
Publisher: Scholastic
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1407120522

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Alex is worried about Grandad. So is the rest of the family. It started with a lot of small things, things that Alex can help him with, like lost keys and glasses. Last night though, Grandad set fire to his pillow. Alex has hidden it, but knows that this is dangerous, and it can't stay a secret for long. Grandad has Alzheimers, and Mum and Dad are thinking of putting him in an old people's home. He is also worried that 'big brother' Leonard knows what has happened and will give them both away.

Alex immediately draws the reader in to his dilemma and the story of how he starts to deal with. He is an engaging boy, obviously very bright and caring about his family. He lives with Mum, Dad, Victoria, Leonard and Sophie in Kent. The opening scene is one of apparently cosy domesticity, yet some tensions are soon shown. Alex suddenly mentions that the first family photo is of him aged 7, with Grandad. The reason for this is that Alex is an adopted child – he lost his parents in Bosnia and his little brother drowned while they were fleeing to safety. His memories are shut up in a box under the bed where he tries to forget about them. While he seems to have settled well with his adopted family, Leonard, only a few months older, still resents him.

Alex hatches a plan – he will help Grandad regain his memory by making a scrapbook of his past with him. As I love history, I found this idea really interesting. However, though I kept hoping Alex's plan would work I never quite believed that it would, especially as he only has a week to change his parents' minds. Also, it soon becomes clear that remembering the past is very problematic for both Grandad and Alex. Both have very bad memories that they would rather forget and can't come to terms with, and perhaps more in common than they know themselves.

The characters in The Memory Cage are well drawn, and the plot is interesting. The author keeps her language quite simple and clear but is not afraid to write about more complicated and serious themes.

Ruth Eastham herself comes from a teaching background and this book, while being a good read, clearly has a certain educational bent. One of her friends has produced several study guides (available free online) for use in literacy for readers at various levels of attainment or for using it as part of a history course – the history teaching guide focuses on WWII and not on the more recent conflict in Bosnia in which Alex lost his birth family. The novel also introduces various methods for researching the past and makes it very clear that history is about real people and problems, not just something from long ago that is over.

I think this story would appeal to older children but also to many more mature readers.

Thank you to Scholastic for sending me a copy to review.

Other older children's books about war include Run Rabbit Run by Barbara Mitchelhill, about World War II, and Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo (World War I). Another Kind of Loving is part of a trilogy by Sylvie Nickels, written for adults, about a Bosnian child growing up in an English family.

Buy The Memory Cage by Ruth Eastham at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Memory Cage by Ruth Eastham at

Buy The Memory Cage by Ruth Eastham at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Memory Cage by Ruth Eastham at


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