Monday, November 28, 2016
Book Review: "A List of Cages" by Robin Roe
Life changed for Julian five years ago when his beloved parents died. He lived with a foster family until a relative took him in. He misses his parents every day, and this loss truly encompasses him, because they understood him, they supported his creativity, and made life fun.
"It's strange how many ways there are to miss someone. You miss the things they did and who they were, but you also miss who you were to them. The way everything you said and did was beautiful or entertaining or important. How much you mattered."
Now a high school freshman, life couldn't be further from fun. Julian has a number of learning disabilities, including dyslexia, which make school absolute hell for him, and his teachers don't care enough to find out what his problems are, they just berate him, fail him, and send him to the principal. His fellow students ridicule him as well. And he constantly feels as if he is living on eggshells at home, where one wrong step could spell disaster.
One day, Julian is shocked to encounter Adam, who was once his foster brother. Adam, a high school senior assigned to help the school psychologist track down Julian for his appointments (which he always conveniently misses), is excited to see Julian again. He remembers many of the things Julian enjoyed when he was younger, and does everything he can to integrate Julian into his wide circle of friends, despite the difference in their ages, and despite Julian's efforts to try not to call attention to himself.
Adam, who tries valiantly to keep his own ADHD in check (not always successfully), is dealing with his own issues, including a crush on a long-time friend, and his best friend Charlie's unhappiness. But he wants Julian to be a part of his life, and he wants to understand what is happening to himwhy is he absent without warning for a few days, why is no one allowed over to his house, why would this relative that took Julian in all those years ago not pay for clothes that fit him?
"He's only four years younger than me, but I feel so much older, or maybe he feels so much younger. I used to think struggle was what aged you, but if that were the case, Julian should've been a hundred years old. Now I wonder if the opposite is true. Maybe instead of accelerating your age, pain won't let you grow."
Things come to a head when Adam starts suspecting things are worse for Julian than he lets on, and Julian tries desperately to keep his friend from finding out the truth. Adam's quest to rescue his friend could wind up seriously endangering both of their lives.
A List of Cages is a sad story that is all too commonplace. Julian is a tremendously special character whose hurt and pain reminded me a tiny bit of Jude's in A Little Life, although the books are vastly different. I enjoyed Adam's character, too, as well as those of his friends and even his mother. I never felt that these kids were more erudite than they should be, which happens all too often in young adult novels.
While the plot isn't necessarily surprising (perhaps we've sadly all become a little too familiar with instances like these), Robin Roe pulls you in to Julian and Adam's stories, makes you care, and makes you feel in the process. I could have done without the one melodramatic plot point, but beyond that, this story gripped me from start to finish. It's hard to read at times because it is so harrowing, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
I hope this book finds a wide audience because of its subject matter, but also because Roe's storytelling ability is so powerful. I'm glad I had the opportunity to read it.
NetGalley and Disney-Hyperion provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!