Summary: Forced to put his own safety first, Eddie leaves home and takes up residence in the local zoo to get away from his mother’s boyfriend Steve who is bent on harming him. At the zoo he meets Jack, a bit of a lost soul still dealing with his grief over the tragic and violent death of his sister decades ago. Jack becomes a mentor-figure, helping Eddie when he needs it and getting him to reconsider his life choices. But when Eddie’s cash dwindles, he turns to his old ways of breaking and entering to find stuff to sell, finding himself in a world of trouble when former acquaintances reappear in his life. Fortunately, Jack is there to make sure what happened to his sister doesn’t happen to Eddie.
Number of Pages: 222
Age Range: 15-17
Review: An eye-opening look at the life of a young offender named Eddie, Last Sam’s Cage by David A. Poulsen is a thoughtful look at the binds that hold us, albeit emotional or societal.
Since his father died, Eddie has lost the always person in his life and finds himself left with an unstable parent who brings home a physically violent boyfriend. When Eddie steps in to stop Steve from hurting his mother, he becomes the target of Steve’s aggression instead. The violence escalates until Eddie finds being in a Young Offenders facility is almost preferable to being at home, and after he does his time he decides to leave home for good. Despite still having an attachment to his mother, Eddie gears himself up for leaving her by reminding himself that she never once defended him from Steve or tried to protect him.
Once he’s on his own though, living in a zoo at the age of fifteen, Eddie has little choice but to return to a life of crime to buy food. The system seems to be stacked against him, but thankfully he meets a man named Jack who keeps an eye out for him and helps him realise he needs to make different choices for things to be different.
Jack is caught in a cage of his own. When his sister was abducted while she was supposed to be under his watch and then turns up raped and dead, Jack cannot forgive himself. It’s been half a lifetime since his sister’s death, and he still visits where she was abducted every day. He is consumed by grief and guilt even after so many years, unable to keep a job and focus on anything else.
But something about Eddie gets through. The connection between Jack and Eddie helps them both, especially after Jack rescues Eddie when his old criminal acquaintances are ready to abuse and kill him.
It’s a transformative experience for both. For Jack, it sets him free from the chains he’s been carrying around, allowing him to go on with his life at last. And for Eddie, he gains the courage to move back in with his mother after Steve has left her for a younger woman. While Eddie knows he’ll still have to be on his guard, weighed against continuing to live at the zoo or getting back in the criminal system, it seems to be the best option for him.
I love the parts of Eddie’s journal that feature his memories of his father. He truly was a caring adult whose loss left a big hole in Eddie’s life, which is why I especially loved the second memorable quote when he realises his father will be a part of him forever.
Last Sam’s Cage is a wonderful, character-driven story I would recommend to mid to older teen readers.
“I ended up writing about a time when we’d gone camping at this lake. I was pretty little and it was the first time I’d even been around water that wasn’t in a bathtub or a puddle. My dad carried me the whole time we were in the water. Sometimes he’d lower me into the water, but as soon as I got scared he’d lift me out and carry me again. Having my dad looking after me like that was about the safest feeling there could be.” – An excerpt from Eddie’s journal in Last Sam’s Cage by David A. Poulsen, page 62
“As I was sitting there, I had this sudden and really clear memory of my dad. Not of him exactly, but of something he used to say. I was afraid of the dark when I was little. Not just a little bit afraid, either. I was pretty much terrified. On those night that I lay in my bed crying, my dad would come in and sit on my bed. He wouldn’t say much. Most of the time he’d just sit with his hand on my shoulder and I’d feel better just having him there. But before he’d leave he’d always say, ‘I’m here, Eddie. Always and always.’ That was the part I liked, the ‘always and always’ part. Hearing those words made me feel that no matter how scared or alone I was, my dad would be a part of me forever.” – An excerpt from Eddie’s journal in Last Sam’s Cage by David A. Poulsen, page 115
“Jack closed his eyes again. Eddie looked to see if he was crying, but he wasn’t. Maybe after a while you stopped crying – even after something as awful as what had happened to Jack. Eddie couldn’t think of anything to say. He couldn’t think of any words that could possibly make a difference or even make sense.
And he didn’t understand, either. He didn’t understand how a person’s guilt could be so great that he would give up his own life to sit at that playground all those days, all those years. Surely no one could have have blamed Jack for what happened? But maybe it didn’t matter. Not if you blamed yourself.” – Eddie from Last Sam’s Cage by David A. Poulsen, page 134
Last Sam’s Cage by David A. Poulsen is published by Key Porter Books, (2004).