Robin Roe’s A LIST OF CAGES is an emotional, realistic, and praiseworthy young adult journey!
Be warned, dear reader: A List Of Cages is a contemporary young adult novel that digs into your soul and stuffs you full of raw emotion. Your eyes will blur and your throat will feel thick. In the end, you’ll be better off for it. With unfiltered empathy and purity, Robin Roe’s debut novel is unlike anything we’ve read before.
It’s been years since Julian last saw his foster brother, Adam, so it’s a bit surprising when the aide to the school psychologist turns out to be his long-lost pseudo-sibling. Adam is the all-around “good kid”: Even-tempered, well liked by his peers and adults, a loyal friend, and a decent student. When Julian isn’t necessarily willing to open up to him, Adam is baffled. But a lot has changed for Julian in the years since he went to live with his Uncle Russell, leaving the young boy anxious, antisocial, and on a learning curve that the school just isn’t willing to address.
Slowly and carefully, Adam tries to work his way back into Julian’s life. He brings the younger boy into his group of friends, but the new dynamic challenges everyone involved. It’s clear to all that Julian’s life isn’t typical for a teenage boy, but no one knows how to approach the situation– or if they even should do so.
Given that it’s a central concept of the book, we don’t think it’s a spoiler to warn you that this story deals with child abuse. What’s happening to Julian is gut-wrenching, but it’s described all the same. In this sense, the book is a hard read. You feel Julian’s anguish. You long for him to tell someone. You desperately wish for someone to give him more credit, more attention… just more. This book will absolutely get an emotional reaction out of you and it will hurt like hell. But you’ll also feel better informed, more aware, and perhaps more empathetic in real life.
As a character, Julian affected us deeply. He is the child the system failed, vulnerable and lost in a very particular psychology from which he can’t escape alone. Your heart bleeds for Julian because he’s so real and you understand that there are so many Julians out in the world. Adam is a spectacular foil character. He’s a rounded character with flaws, but there’s a capacity for genuine care and goodness that you just don’t see in most teen characters without getting preachy. Sure, he drinks and sneaks out and the like, but Adam cares unabashedly for the people around him and wants to make a difference in their lives.
We’ve also got to give a quick shout out to the secondary characters that kept the story cohesive, like Adam’s angry-at-the-world best friend, Charlie, who finds himself confronting a real problem for the first time, and Emerald, a lifelong friend of Adam’s whose sunny approach to the world clashes with reality.
It’s truly astounding that this is Robin Roe’s debut novel. While there was one aspect at the end of the story that didn’t work perfectly for us (it seemed less realistic than the rest of the story,) it’s a minor quibble. We were deeply affected by this book overall. If you’re willing to go deep and read some powerful YA, be prepared to pick this book up in January.
RATING: 4.5/5 STARS
A List of Cages hits bookstores on January 10, 2017. You can pre-order now via Amazon.
When Adam Blake lands the best elective ever in his senior year, serving as an aide to the school psychologist, he thinks he’s got it made. Sure, it means a lot of sitting around, which isn’t easy for a guy with ADHD, but he can’t complain, since he gets to spend the period texting all his friends. Then the doctor asks him to track down the troubled freshman who keeps dodging her, and Adam discovers that the boy is Julian–the foster brother he hasn’t seen in five years.
Adam is ecstatic to be reunited. At first, Julian seems like the boy he once knew. He’s still kind hearted. He still writes stories and loves picture books meant for little kids. But as they spend more time together, Adam realizes that Julian is keeping secrets, like where he hides during the middle of the day, and what’s really going on inside his house. Adam is determined to help him, but his involvement could cost both boys their lives.