CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 8 . . . . December 10, 2004
It was time.
The house was dark and almost still. Eddie Slater could hear it behind the closed bedroom door, the sleep-breathing of his mother and stepfather. In the quiet of the hallway he noticed that their breaths came almost in unison, and he thought for a moment about how weird this was. His mom and Steve were actually together on something and neither one knew it.
Last Sam's Cage is both a mystery and a young adult novel about a troubled teen. Eddie Slater runs away from an abusive stepfather and several encounters with the law for B and E's (Break and Entries) and takes refuge in the Calgary Zoo. Living first in an abandoned shed and then in an opening in the riverbank, he manages to avoid detection for several weeks, except by Jack Simm, the strange middle-aged man who seems to be keeping an eye on Eddie.
The mystery in this book concerns Jack Simm. Why is he interested in Eddie? Why doesn't he report him to the police? Why does he sit for hours watching children in a school yard? Is he a pervert? A predator? Eddie breaks into Jack's house to try to answer these questions and finds a tragic answer. Jack proves his friendship at the exciting climax of the book when Eddie is threatened by dangerous bullies whom he has offended in the shopping mall.
Much of this book is about Eddie's feelings of anger and betrayal at his stepfather and his mother. He is also haunted by memories of his father's death and daydreams of what "might have been." It is an exploration of a sub-culture: the disconnected, anti-social teen who feels he has nothing to lose. Paulson manages to make this world vividly real. Some of the minor details of the book seem less realistic. Eddie lives for weeks on a total of $24 and left-over hotdogs from the zoo. At one point, he buys a Fudgsicle, and it is his total food for the day. Even for a skinny teen, this is unconvincing.
Despite the limited setting of the book (most of it takes place within the walls of the zoo), there is plenty of suspense as readers feel Eddie's vulnerability and realize he is close to being found and sent back to a beating, or even attacked and killed. This book should be popular with boys and with all disaffected teens. For those who have dreamed of escaping from their everyday life, it is also something of an escape novel, although it certainly shows the difficulties as well as the freedom that this entails. The ending of the book is hopeful, if unresolved, as Eddie returns to a home where his stepfather has left but his mother is still weak.
Last Sam's Cage is a memorable book that will stay with readers for a long time.
Helen Norrie, a former teacher-librarian In Winnipeg, MB, has taught children's literature courses at the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.