Book Review: Girl in a Cage

Reading Level

Ages 9-12

Other Books by This Author

• Wolf Girls
• Roanoke: The Lost Colony
• The Salem Witch Trials

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Jane Yolen, one of this age's finest writers, has spun another yarn straight from the pages of history. This book, Girl in a Cage, is the story of Marjorie, only daughter of Robert the Bruce, who struggled mightily to keep his country free from England's King Edward I in the late 13th and early 14th Centuries.

As the authors (Yolen's co-author was Robert J. Harris.) make clear, the majority of the events that occur in the narrative arc of this book are true. And, what little they don't know about the people and those times, the authors fill in using knowledge gleaned from other sources.

The result is a wonderfully vivid picture of life in a turbulent time on the British Isles: England's king has decided that he is not satisfied with his recent conquest of Wales and that he must have Scotland as well. The heroism of William Wallace ("Brave Heart") is mentioned in a timeline that precedes the narrative; and as the story opens, Scotland is ablaze with rebellion, intrigue, and a small country's struggle against a mighty foe.

The chapters alternate between the present and the past, the present being Marjorie's imprisonment in the cage and the past being the events that led up to that imprisonment. Many times, the end of one chapter has Marjorie thinking about things that the next chapter explains happened just a few weeks before. This is a device that works well.

By making the protagonist an 11-year-old girl, the authors are able to show life through the particular mirror that this young girl would look at those turbulent events through, allowing younger readers to absorb more of what really happened because they see those battles and castles and heroes as not so many nameless faces fighting in faraway lands but rather fathers and uncles and cousins, fighting for the right to live in their own homeland under their own home rule. Time and again, the reader learns of important events as Marjorie learns of them, from gossip of handmaidens or from "spying" on her father's war councils.

Marjorie is certainly a girl with spunk, determination, and devotion; and she needs all these qualities and more to survive what is her greatest challenge (at least in the glimpse of her life that this book shows us): surviving imprisonment in a cage, hanging in the courtyard of an English town near the Scottish border. She has been captured and placed in the cage as ransom, for the good behavior and (the English king fervently hopes) the ransom of Scotland's newly crowned king, Robert the Bruce.

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