A Cardboard Palace Book Review: Innocence and dark reality

A cardboard palace book review

What is this about?: It’s the tale of Jorge, for whom every day is about surviving, and who wants to save his friends from being sold.

What else is this about?: Child trafficking, which is a dark part of the story.

Stars: 4/5

Blurb: Jorge lives in a shanty town on the outskirts of Paris. Bill, a controller, has an army of child thieves at his command – and Jorge is one of them. But soon Jorge faces an even bigger threat. His home is to be bulldozed. Where will Jorge sleep? What will happen to his friends, Ada and Gino? Could a growing friendship with Australian chef Sticky Ricky help Jorge to stop Bill and save the army of child thieves? And will he do it before he loses Ada forever? Jorge can’t keep fighting to live – now he must live to fight. A humbling story about one boy’s desperation to escape a life of crippling poverty.

If you’re getting a Dickensian vibe from this blurb, you would be right. Allayne Webster has written a story about Jorge, a young boy who is part of an army of young children that roam Paris, earning money where they can — and by that I mean, stealing begging and doing anything else they can.

This is aimed at a younger audience, so the writing is simple but filled with emotion as Jorge begs for money, steals it and worries about his friends as they too roam Paris begging for money. Then, Jorge finds that money is the least of their worries for his female friends are being married to men much older than they are. 

As much as the story broke my heart, what makes the story resonate is what Webster achieves with the tone in her writing. 

Innocence personified

What struck me and still stays with me long after finishing the book is the innocence in Jorge’s tone. No matter the circumstances of his life, he knows what’s wrong and right, and it comes through as clear as a bell in his voice. I think that’s a powerful aspect of this book, especially when the story takes a darker turn and child trafficking becomes part of the story.

There is no sensationalism or anything like that in this part of the narrative either. Everything is seen through Jorge’s eyes and while he may not actually understand what he is seeing his friends go through, it’s that innocence that’s going to break your heart. Jorge’s heart is huge, and into it he takes his friends easily and tries his best to save them where he can.

It’s difficult for me to focus on the plot lines because I reacted so emotionally to this book — to the strength of the children in the most difficult of circumstances and their innocence through it all. My heart broke for them, and even more so because somewhere out there children are indeed experiencing this. 

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