Review Blog

Feb 23 2009

Lost Riders by Elizabeth Laird

cover image

Macmillan, 2008,
(Ages 9+) Highly Recommended. Rashid and Shari's poverty stricken mother decides to allow her sons to travel from their home in Pakistan to the Gulf to work as companions to rich children. Both Rashid and Shari are promised a comfortable life as playmates to a wealthy family. Of course the promises do not materialise and the boys find themselves in the heat of the Gulf working as jockeys in an Uzba - a camel farm.
It is one of Laird's strengths that the story of such an alien environment should grab the reader's attention and suck them straight into the harsh world of camel racing. Rashid is the lucky one, separated from his four year old brother; he learns to live in an Uzba where, although life is harsh, he is treated far better than Shari.
This is a story of contradictions - the rich Camel racers - sheikhs and entrepreneurs treat their camels far better than they do the young jockeys who race them. Starved to ensure they remain small, electrocuted with cattle prods to spur them on, the boys, some as young as four or five are forced to ride in races where injury is likely and death not unknown.
Rashid has an uneasy relationship with his fellow jockeys. He relies on their friendship, but discovers he has a gift for camel racing which the rich owners want to manipulate to their advantage, placing Rashid in a league well above the other boys. However, when his young brother is seriously injured during a race, Rashid needs his friends' help to rescue him. Based on real events that were taking place as recently as 2005 this story is a chilling reminder that child trafficking and slavery are still a reality in some parts of the world.
This is a powerful story full of action and excitement which also tackles the complexity of human relationships and the struggle to find happiness and fulfilment in the most unlikely of situations. Great to read aloud for both upper primary and lower secondary, there will be plenty to think about and discuss, and I have a hunch we may see Lost Riders on this year's Carnegie shortlist.
Claire Larson

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