Twelve-year-old Meena’s mother is dead, her father is a drunk, and there is no money for necessities like food, clothing, or a roof over the tin shack she calls home. So when a handsome boy on a motorbike tells her he can get her a job as a waitress in a hotel, she’s desperate enough to believe him … and to persuade her best friend to come as well.
The story is gold in two timelines: the present, which starts shortly before Meena is rescued from the brothel, and the past, which shows how she got there. The past story is especially difficult to read, as we know Meena’s future. I found myself hoping against hope that the book will turn into a choose-your-own-adventure so Meena and Putali could be saved from the hell awaiting them (it doesn’t, and they aren’t).
The present timeline shows just how difficult rehabilitation is.
It’s not that the girls want to go back to sex work. It’s more that any self-respect or self-belief they might once have had has been lost to years of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. It’s not easy to read, and it must have been even more difficult to research and write.
I initially put off reading Out of the Cages because of the subject matter.
Sex trafficking in Nepal and India isn’t a light read. Men stealing uneducated young girls—often relatives—from their homes with promises of good work in India, then selling them to “hotels” where they have to work to pay off their “debt”.
I was concerned the content might be too explicit, especially as it’s a young adult read. I need not have worried. Penny Jaye has done a fabulous job in writing Out of the Cages, in that she hasn’t shied away from the horror of sex trafficking, but nor has she gone into unnecessary lengths in detailing the physical horrors facing these girls.
Instead, she’s focused on the emotional trauma.
No, Out of the Cages wasn’t an easy or fun read. Yes, it was challenging and occasionally harrowing. But it is one of those stories that will stay in your mind long after you’ve finished reading it. As Penny Jaye says at the end:
Recommended. Thanks to Rhiza Press for providing a free ebook for review.
About Penny Jaye
Penny Jaye writes books for children and older readers. From YA novels to picture books, her books strive to find beauty, hope, strength and love even in the toughest of settings.
Although ‘Out of the Cages’ is her first novel for young adults, Penny is an experienced and award winning author with more than 20 books published under her other author name, Penny Reeve.
She is currently living, and writing, in western Sydney, Australia.
Find Penny Jaye (aka Penny Reeve) online at:
About Out of the Cages
Fifteen-year-old Meena has given up all hope of ever escaping the brothel.
For three years she’s locked away her memories – of home, of her childhood friend, of what it means to hope. But when a botched police raid offers her a chance at freedom, Meena must face the truth about her past.
As she attempts to piece her life back together, the memories she has buried deep inside begin to resurface. Meena realises escaping the brothel is only the beginning of what it means to be free.
Can she face the truth in her memories? Can she return to Nepal if it means returning alone? Or will she face the red-light district one last time?