A cardboard palace by Allayne Webster
Midnight Sun publishing, 2018. ISBN 9781925227253
(Ages: 10+) Highly recommended. Themes: Homelessness, Paris, Child trafficking, Crime. A Notable Book in the CBCA 2018 awards, an enlightening interview with Allayne Webster can be found at http://www.justkidslit.com/interviewbybook-with-allayne-webster/ which underlines her credentials for writing a book about homeless youth in Paris. In 2010, she found herself watching a young boy slip his hand into her husband's pocket and that scene helped develop her character, Jorge, a homeless boy in Paris, used by Bill, along with a number of other children to skim, scam and steal from people in the streets. And this is not random, the children are taught to target likely suspects, confuse and steal from them, then pass the money onto Bill.
At night these children live in cardboard shanties on the outskirts of Paris, some, like Jorge, hopeful that they will be able to leave this life, but most simply living from day to day, grateful to be fed and housed. Many of them are waifs, or bought from parents believing they will be given work, or homeless children taken up by adults who use them to make money.
In an unflinching story, Webster reveals the lives these children live, many not yet in their teens, never going to school, avoiding the police, aware all the time of the power of the men who control them, living in abject poverty and often trafficked.
At times reading like a modern Oliver Twist, Webster has given this theme a modern showing, revealing the children forced into this life, exploited by others, forced sometimes into marriage, abused and neglected.
The story comes to a head when the children find that their homes will be bulldozed by the authorities and Jorge's friend, Ada is about to be forced into a marriage she does not want. With help form their Australian cook friend, Sticky, they take matters into their own hands and survive the brutal lives they have endured.
This is a revealing story about desperate children exploited by adults in one of the major cities in the world and it is a salutary reminder to its readers that this is not just a Parisian problem.