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Monday, May 25, 2015

Teens Trapped in a Human Zoo Makes for Stomach-Turning, But Engrossing YA Thriller

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Cora Mason is supposed to be on the slopes skiing with her family.  In fact, the last thing the 16-year-old remembers is composing song lyrics in the passenger seat while her brother drove to the ski resort.  But what she sees now isn't snow.  She's alone in a vast sea of sand.  Cora's a senator's daughter—maybe this is a kidnapping?  Except her surroundings don't even seem real.  There's something off about them, something surreal and dream-like to the whole situation.  The more Cora explores the land around her, the more confused she becomes.  A patchwork landscape like this can't exist.  Farms don't sit next to jungles, nor tundras next to deserts.  Where in the world has she landed?  And why is she here?

Soon, Cora discovers other teenagers, all wandering the strange terrain in various states of astonishment and fear.  As they learn to regard each other with a wary trust, they also discover the chilling truth about their new living quarters:  the odd habitat has been designed especially for them, the newest exhibits in a human zoo run by a highly intelligent alien race.  To remain in the safety of the zoo, all they have to do is obey—they must eat, sleep, exercise, and procreate.  If they do not comply, they will be auctioned off to private collectors who use captured humans for their own murky purposes.

While some of her comrades agree, preferring known horrors to the unknown, Cora refuses to be controlled so easily.  Her new-found friendship with one of the alien guards may be the key to escape.  But, as the human captives turn their backs on Cora and her otherworldly captors grow more suspicious of her intentions, life in the zoo is becoming increasingly dangerous.  Can Cora find her way home?  Or will she be forced to live like a caged animal, kept alive only as long as she does what she's told?  

Megan Shepherd, author of The Madman's Daughter trilogy, must have a stomach of steel.  In her debut series, she addressed the bloody art of vivisection in all its fascinating goriness.  Her new YA novel, The Cage (available May 26, 2015), is no less horrifying with its vivid and disturbing depictions of humans being kept as exhibits and pets.  As disconcerting as the idea is, though, I have to admit it makes for an intriguing premise, one that pretty much guarantees an intense, nail-biter of a story, which The Cage certainly is.  Pulse-pounding action isn't the only thing the novel has going for it—mix in interesting, complex characters; thought-provoking philosophical questions (What is real?  What does it mean to truly be free?); and a taut, survivalist adventure tale; and you've got yourself an edge-of-your-seat, can't-put-it-down thriller.  My only real complaint is I wish the kids hadn't met the Kindred quite so soon.  A more anonymous antagonist (a lá LOST or The Maze Runner) would have made the story even more suspenseful.  Despite that small annoyance, I couldn't look away from this one.  It kept me totally engrossed and completely mesmerized.  I'm already dying to read the next book in the series.  

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of The Maze Runner trilogy [The Maze Runner; The Scorch Trials; The Death Cure] by James Dashner and a little of the t.v. show LOST)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (no F-bombs), violence, and some sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of The Cage from the generous folks at HarperCollins via those at Edelweiss.  Thank you!

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