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. First-time novelist Robin Roe relied on life experience when writing this exquisite, gripping story featuring two lionhearted characters.
A List of CagesFeatured
Though they were foster brothers once upon a time when Julian’s parents died in a car accident and Adam’s social worker mother temporarily took him in, Adam and Julian are very different boys. Julian is a dyslexic kid who’s heavily drawn into his shell but absolutely loves stories; Adam is Mr. Popular with so many friends that readers will only remember maybe two of them. They haven’t interacted since Julian’s uncle took him away, but when Adam’s position as the school psychologist’s student aide brings him back into orbit with Julian, he’s determined to bring the kid out of his shell.
Not that easy, though. Julian’s uncle Russell is absolutely vicious, whipping Julian over the smallest infractions and telling him that Adam and his mom purposefully gave him up for hanging up art in his bedroom. YEP, REALLY. Russell rarely deigns to justify himself to Julian and thus the reader, but he lets it slip that his own father raised him the same way so that he’d become a Man instead of staying a boy forever. Through moments like this, Roe criticizes toxic masculinity that says boys can’t be artists or cry and men can’t respect others feelings or show any weakness.
In small ways, both Adam and Julian reminded me of myself, which further helped me connect to two boys who are already made lifelike by Roe’s hand. Julian’s utter wasteland of a life–living with an uncle who won’t even let the kid bring friends over, being bullied at school, eating lunch in his own little hidey hole at the school–motivates Adam to do his best for his former foster brother. Once he starts including Julian in anything he does with his friends, Adam actually gets somewhere!
Then Julian gets locked in a suitcase/trunk for about half the novel because Russell has had enough of him. It’s exactly as bad as it sounds.
What Left Me Wanting:
For the second half of the novel while Julian is locked up, the book fully reveals itself as Misery Lit, also referred to as “tragedy porn” or “misery porn.” The line between a book about tragic events and Misery Lit isn’t an easy one to define, but it typically relies on what you’re getting out of it. Are you learning about the event in a sensitive way or is it more of a voyeuristic experience as you watch someone go through the absolute worst things possible? A List of Cages feels much more like the latter because it’s so overtly voyeuristic it’s borderline unreadable at times.
The novel’s conclusion isn’t very satisfying either. Julian is in a happier place and doing much better, but Adam is pretty much wrecked because of the condition he found Julian in and his guilt about what he could have done to prevent it from happening. It seems as though Julian’s life got better at the cost of Adam’s life getting worse by bearing witness to Julian’s nightmare.
Memoirs like Mommie Dearest and David Pelzer’s classic A Child Called It would pair well with A List of Cages and teens will devour it if they dream of being social workers one day. If they can’t handle what’s in this book, it’ll save them from one of the toughest, burnout-heavy professions in existence!
*criticism of toxic masculinity
*good companion read for teachers having their classes read David Pelzer's A Child Called It
Adam wants to help Julian. He finds that there are many mysteries about Julian like how he’s out of school a lot and very secretive. Only when Adam includes Julian into his inner circle of friends, does he realize how much he wants to help Julian. But by getting close to Julian he ends up finding a terrible secret. One that might put both of their lives in danger.
What worked: Page turning tale that shows the power of friendship and how love does conquer all. I’m a huge fan of books that show protagonists with ADHD and other sensory issues in a positive light without all the clichés and stereotypes. Adam has ADHD but he’s the one that is the leader of his friends and someone that everyone, including Julian, look up too. He also doesn’t let his diagnosis of ADHD hold him back. He’s smart, funny, talented, and a great friend to everyone.
Julian has dyslexia and I think some kind of sensory impairment issue. It doesn’t help that his parents had died as they were the one source of support in his life. His abusive uncle ends up raising him. The scenes where Julian shows readers how he feels invisible are painful and very sad. I wanted to hug him. Adam’s friendship cracks open the shell Julian has around him. These scenes are haunting and powerful.
There’s so much to love about this novel which includes how powerful love and friendship are to those who feel abandoned and lost. Also it shows how you shouldn’t give up on someone if you think that friend might be in an abusive situation. It takes courage to stand up for someone in that kind of situation. But by standing up and being a true friend, you might save a life.
Powerful, courageous story with two characters that stand up to insurmountable odds and end up saving each other.