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Reviewed by Chris Reed
Opening sentence
Deftly, Sam picked the lock to the back door of the vape shop and dashed inside to disable the alarm
In 'Caged', acclaimed New Zealand children’s author Susan Brocker tackles weighty themes of exploitation and resilience through an uplifting tale perfect for middle grade readers. When down-on-her-luck teenager Sam stumbles onto an abusive puppy mill run by a dangerous criminal network, she faces wrenching ethical dilemmas that force her to find courage and make a stand for justice.

Set in urban West Auckland yet resonating far beyond, Caged lays bare the vicious cycles trapping the impoverished and vulnerable. As Sam’s family struggles paycheck-to-paycheck in emergency housing, she turns to petty crime to cover essentials, bitterly aware the system seems rigged against their stability. Yet one spark of defiance – rescuing an ailing puppy despite the risks – soon embroils her in confronting far more sinister villains.

Brocker’s empathetic eye illuminates societal failings while championing the power of young activists to effect meaningful change. Expertly paced short chapters bound between escalating stakes, landing gut-punches before glimpses of tenacious hope peek through. As Sam witnesses cruelty toward both animals and humans, apprenticeship gives way to brave dissent. Readers find themselves really getting in behind the whole family’s liberation as Sam proves through grit and ingenuity that positive outcomes remain possible however long the odds.

Accessible yet unwilling to oversimplify injustice’s harsh contours, Caged delivers an inspirational call-to-action for young readers to confront wrongs in their communities. Brocker skillfully entertains while nudging civic awareness, remaining clear-eyed yet resolutely uplifting.
Publisher: Scholastic New Zealand
ISBN: 9781775438380
Format: Paperback
Publication: October 2023
Ages: 10+ years