A Cage Without Bars by Anne Dublin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Initially I was really excited about A Cage Without Bars. It's a middle age/grade book about a tough topic. Set in the late 1500's in Spain we see a twelve-year-old boy taken away from his Jewish parents, only with many other children, and taken to an island where he is enslaved on a sugar plantation. Tough topics in middle age books usually make for great reads. Unfortunately A Cage Without Bars doesn't quite deliver.
Starts out Strong
This is a simple language book about some harsh conditions. It started off by reminding me some of a book I loved at age twelve called The Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. Like that book they both have portions that take place at sea under less than ideal conditions; and both feature a whipping scene. At this point I was really stoked for this to carry forward and continue to give us intense, realistic scenes that middle age children could understand.
Unfortunately Anne Dublin didn't keep the momentum moving. Once we are off the ship and arrive at the island where our children are enslaved to work on a sugar plantation; A Cage Without Bars becomes a typical story of trying to grow sugar under awful conditions. There isn't really much here that even tugs at the heart strings (which really says something given that the children are slaves and starving). I just didn't feel the emotion that I had when our children were on the boat. Not sure what changed but the narrative felt so different.
I've read a variation of the failed sugar plantation run by slaves dozens of times before. Unfortunately there was nothing new to really add to this one. I wish I had been more wrapped up in the survival of the children; and I wish that we had the perspective of the sister (and not just the lead boy).
A Cage Without Bars is also very short. So I suppose that's a positive if you want to add a quick indie book to your list for the year. Overall I just don't think there is enough here to be worthy of even the short time spent. However, I did finish the story (and not just because it was short). There was just enough to keep me interested; even when I felt like I had read the plantation setting before. So it's not all bad; but not all that great either.
Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.
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