Originally published in 2007 by NeWest Press, The Bone Cage by Angie Abdou is currently a contender for CBC Canada Reads. I love that Canada Reads exposes me to authors and books that I wouldn’t have initially picked out — such as The Bone Cage. But the opening chapter drew me in as I relived the sensations of being on a swim team (and I was a lifeguard too).
Digger, an 85 kilo wrestler, and Sadie, a 26-year-old speed swimmer, stand on the verge of realizing every athlete’s dream—winning a gold medal at the Olympics. Both athletes are nearing the end of their careers, and are forced to confront the question: what happens to athletes when their bodies are too worn to compete?
The blossoming relationship between Digger and Sadie is tested in the intense months leading up to the Olympics, as demanding training schedules, divided loyalties, and unpredicted obstacles take their draining toll. The Olympics, as both of them are painfully aware, will be the realization or the end of a life’s dream.
I really liked how the characters were established independently in alternating chapters. At one point I found myself wondering if they ever meet, but I was glad that Angie Abdou waited so long to introduce them to each other.
Abdou’s imagery and writing was perfect; succinct but illustrative with the right balance of narrative and description. It never felt over-written but never left me creating details myself. I particularly enjoyed the reminiscing thoughts of the chlorine-smell ‘whoosh’ when you spend so much time at the pool. It sounds weird, but I really miss the smell.
Digger and Sadie are both preparing for the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney and the book really captured the feeling of years of training for a slim, quick shot. Sadie begins to question and wonder if it’s worth it—has she thrown away her life and what’s the point if she doesn’t take gold at the Olympics?
I found the entire book very enlightening to the athletic mentality as well as the aftermath. I also think the title of the book is absolutely perfect— for athletes, their bodies are just a bone cage being rattled, stretched, tested, and sometimes broken. I also realized that not all athletes who train will go to the Olympics— they train together, pace and test each other, but sometimes one athlete will make it to the Olympics while their teammate will not. It’s a disquieting fact and very acutely and emotionally written in The Bone Cage.
The Bone Cage is well-written with strong main characters and well-developed secondary characters too. You are drawn into both sports with crafted prose and kept afloat with minimal sports jargon. It is a memorable story and I was thoroughly satisfied with the ending (no spoilers). When I read the last chapter and realized that was the ending, I initially thought I’d be upset, but as I let it resonate and sit with me for a few minutes, I realized it was a great way to end.
I think it has a strong shot for CBC’s Canada Reads and am looking forward to hearing it debated — especially as we come to the one-year anniversary of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.