Saturday 16 September 2017

A Cardboard Palace

A Cardboard Palace written by Allayne L. Webster, (MidnightSun Publishing)   PB RRP$17.99   ISBN 9781925227253

Reviewed by Stefan Nicholson

The romantic, bohemian city of Paris is the setting for Allayne Webster’s new novel. Many Paris tourist landmarks are described in great detail during the course of the story, which adds to the authenticity of the author’s research.

The story is centred around a migrant shanty town on the outskirts of the city that is threatened with demolition. The poverty and hopelessness of its residents is shown through the lives of the homeless children who are forced into criminal activity by greedy opportunists and desperate parents.
The first chapter immediately introduces one of these children, Jorge, and his English criminal minder Bill who takes on the modern equivalent of a cruel Fagan.

The story follows Jorge’s struggle with Bill’s manipulation of his army of child thieves.  There is a secondary story surrounding Jorge’s love for Ada who is being forced to marry at the age of 10, accepted by the camp culture. Some of his friends die due to sickness and accident. Jorge realises some relief from his hopelessness in the guise of Australian chef Sticky Ricky who mentors him and the empowerment of his fellow companions as they rise to fight for a better life. The battle then is between the survival of Jorge and the defeat of Bill.

The first chapter is written in past tense to rapidly show the mechanism of the petty theft used by the team on a typical day.

From the second chapter on, the story is written in the present tense through the eyes of Jorge, to create a film-like effect. This is an interesting approach because the present tense allows the story to flow with the immediacy of sequential events, adding to the characterisation of Jorge.  We are there with Jorge as events unfold which makes the climax more intense and satisfying. It does however include expanded descriptions to the story line and the general element of suspense is somewhat diminished because we only see what Jorge sees and not what is happening elsewhere.

This story will be enjoyed by the intended middle-school audience, no doubt with some lively class discussions on the social issues it raises and the way it was written.

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