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Book Review

This thriller by John Sandford and Michele Cook is the first in the “Singular Menace” series published by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House LLC.

Uncaged is written for kids ages 14 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Plot Summary

Odin Remby is in big trouble. Almost 18, brilliant and slightly autistic, Odin is the computer geek for a radical animal rights group called Storm. When Storm breaks into the Singular Corp research lab in Eugene, Oregon, the members free numerous injured animals and steal encrypted flash drives. Odin discovers the drives contain damaging information that will prove Singular’s alleged Parkinson’s research is a cover for something much more sinister.

Using secret Facebook accounts, he informs his 16-year-old sister, Shay, that he’s on the run. Shay, still in foster care after the death of their parents, gets a visit from Singular security officers named Cherry and West. She can tell by their questions that her brother is in trouble, probably in the Hollywood area. She packs a bag and takes a bus to Hollywood from Oregon to find him.

After Shay has been on the streets of Hollywood for a few days, some thugs accost her. A scarred man with a bowler hat and gold-headed walking stick appears. He and his henchmen beat up the thugs, and he gives Shay his card in case she needs a place to stay. Through various channels, she learns the man, known only as Twist, is not another pimp or slaver. He’s an independently wealthy, politically active street artist who provides safe lodging for homeless kids in an old hotel. Shay stays in his hotel with a roommate named Emily. She also meets Cade, Twist’s young computer guru, and another street kid named Cruz.

The foster parents Shay left were avid rock climbers, who taught her how to climb. When Twist learns about Shay’s climbing experiences, he immediately enlists her to help with his latest project. He’s planning to unfurl a gigantic banner on a building near the freeway to protest the harsh treatment of immigrants. Shay’s ability to lock the roof door and rappel down the building will prevent anyone from taking down the banner before it gets ample news coverage. News photos of Shay’s descent reveal her whereabouts to the Singular security staff. They begin following her.

Several days later, Shay hears about whales washing up on a beach nearby. Activists and conservationists are struggling to get them back in the water. Shay knows this is the sort of place where Odin will show up, so she gets Emily, Cade and Cruz to take her. She is able to meet up with Odin briefly. He gives her a bag of thumb drives for safekeeping, only one of which he’s been able to decode so far. He also begs her to take a straggly dog he has rescued from the Singular lab. It has a patch over one eye and looks sick and weak. Twist’s hotel doesn’t allow pets, but Odin is so desperate that Shay agrees.

Cherry and West appear on the beach, and Odin runs. Shay watches helplessly as someone in a van kidnaps Odin. Shay helps West after he’s injured by another fleeing Storm member. Shay learns West, a disabled veteran, has high-tech prosthetic legs, courtesy of Singular and their research.

As the dog, called X, deteriorates in health, Shay comes clean about her pet and enlists Twist’s help. She’s sure the dog is micro-chipped so he can’t be taken to a regular vet. Twist takes her to a doctor who is stunned, after examining the dog. He says X is equipped with high-tech legs and a revolutionary artificial eye that link to his brain waves. Despite the dog’s state-of-the-art body parts, he seems to be dying. Shay examines him and finds a port through which she can plug him into a computer. After she “recharges” the dog, he begins to heal.

Meanwhile, Singular thugs are torturing Odin, trying to find out where Storm is hiding and learn what Odin knows about the corporation’s secret work. Shay breaks one of Odin’s codes and finds disturbing videos on the thumb drive he left her. Singular appears to be using human test subjects, giving them memories belonging to other people and otherwise impairing their brains.

West begins to learn the truth about Singular’s experiments and secretly helps Shay dodge the corporation’s attempts to capture her. Twist, along with Cruz and Cade, rig up an elaborate lighted banner on the famed Hollywood sign directing people to a website called mindkill.com. On the site, they post the videos of what Singular is doing to human test subjects. A media frenzy ensues.

West learns where Odin is being imprisoned and helps Shay and her friends break in to rescue him. Shay gets temporarily separated from her friends and drastically changes her appearance so she won’t be recognized. Singular kills West for helping Shay and holds a press conference that touts their robotics research. They show a veteran with prosthetic legs, similar to what West had, who can do amazing things. They say Storm’s attack on their facility set them back from making this technology more available to the public. Shay is reunited with Twist, Cade, Cruz, Odin and a female test subject they rescued from Odin’s prison. When Shay learns Singular has killed West, she’s all the more determined to seek revenge.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

Twist gives Shay a Hopi stone for good luck. She believes in mathematics and hard work much more than luck or omens, but she finds the stone comforting. Cade explains that the line on the stone is called a spirit line. The line supposedly connects the natural world, such as plants, animals and people, with the supernatural world. When Shay needs someone to examine the ailing dog, Twist takes her to a shop he says is like a drug store with religion, mysticism and voodoo thrown in.

Authority Roles

Shay and Odin’s parents died in unspecified accidents. Shay’s most recent foster parents were drug users who primarily neglected their foster kids but taught them how to climb rocks. Singular executives, including a VP nicknamed Sync, allow ruthless animal and human testing. They will stop at nothing and destroy anyone standing in their way. Twist uses his resources to help street kids and promote political causes. He goes to great lengths and expense to help Shay find her brother and expose Singular’s misconduct.

Profanity & Violence

The words a–, s— and the Lord’s name used in vain appear more than a dozen times each. The f-word, h—, d–n, b–ch, screw, p—, b–tard and crap each appear a handful of times. A man flips off Emily and Shay on the freeway.

When two thugs try to catch Shay, Twist’s henchmen beat them with bats, breaking bones, splattering blood and causing the thugs to scream in pain. Twist smashes his cane on the bridge of a thug’s nose, which breaks. Twist also orders his men to break one man’s leg and the other’s wrist. The Singular captors torment Odin by showing him gory videos of test animals. They also use water torture techniques on Odin in an effort to get information. X the dog attacks bad guys, ripping off skin and severely mangling faces.

Sexual Content

A hotel clerk insinuates he’ll let Shay stay for free if she sleeps with him. When Shay first meets Twist, he warns her of the pimps and slavers hunting for runaways like her. Twist’s political poster in support of immigrants features a nearly naked, voluptuous woman wearing red stilettos and a Nazi armband. Emily frequently uses a type of lip gloss called Nars Orgasm.

Twist allows the kids to use the Internet, though Emily says he’s afraid it will turn them into porn perverts. One of Twist’s hotel rules is no sex. Emily tells Shay that Twist doesn’t have anything against sex, but he’s found it causes problems when he allows it to happen on the hotel premises. Emily says this is fine unless you fall in love. Rachel, one of Storm’s leaders, takes Odin as a lover so he will use his technical savvy for their purposes. Twist is often seen with attractive women; one of them played a pole dancer in five different movies.

Discussion Topics


Additional Comments

Substance use/abuse: Shay’s former foster parents were frequent pot users. Twist forbids drugs, alcohol and smoking at his hotel. In the midst of their hiding out, he says he needs a beer and a cigarette.

Addiction: As Shay watches some of the sleep-deprived street kids constantly on the Internet in Twist’s hotel lobby, she says the Net is like an addiction for many of them.

This review is brought to you by Focus on the Family, a donor-based ministry. Book reviews cover the content, themes and world-views of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book’s inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

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