“A List of Cages” by Robin Roe is a young adult book that is extremely powerful and heartrending, yet also uplifting. It’s a testament to the power of friendship, and it’s a cautionary tale to those who foster or work with children. It’s the story of two boys, Adam and Julian, and the bond that saves the life of Julian.
Julian’s life was difficult when he was bullied as a young child. His mother told him that those who are mean act that way because they are unhappy. He is dyslexic, and his inability to read well makes him self-conscious. Julian’s parents are killed when he is nine years old, and he goes to live with Adam. Julian and Adam had been partners when Adam was in 5th grade and Julian was in kindergarten, so they knew each other a bit.
Julian was devastated by the loss of his parents. And he was devastated again when after almost a year, his mother’s sister’s husband took him away to live in his house. Russell lives alone since Julian’s aunt died years before. And he is abusive, extremely abusive, to Julian.
Roe does a brilliant job creating characters whose personalities jump off the page and who seem real and vibrant. Adam is a happy-go-lucky guy who has a huge circle of friends and a loving mother. He is caring, observant, and kind. When he gets to serve as an aide to the school psychologist in his senior year, he’s thrilled to reconnect with Julian, his former foster brother.
Julian’s life has been difficult since his parents died. He is extremely shy and insecure, and he tries to disappear at school. In fact, he does disappear at lunch, hiding away in a secret room above the school stage. He skips classes and doesn’t go to see the school psychologist. So when Adam shows up and escorts him there, they start to talk and reconnect.
Adam senses that something is wrong with Julian’s life, and when Julian misses several days of school, Adam goes to visit him. Adam has given Julian rides home from school, so he knows where he lives. Before they reconnected, although Adam’s mother had tried to contact Julian through his uncle, they were never allowed to visit or hear anything about Julian. Adam realizes that something is really wrong with Julian’s uncle, but when Julian begs him not to say anything, he agrees.
Finally, Julian’s uncle acts to show how truly depraved and mentally unstable he is, and when Julian’s life is in danger, only Adam has the connection with him that might save him.
Roe manages to illustrate the feelings of both characters through the first person narration. The process by which the boys reconnect and become close, almost like the brothers they were for a short time, is beautifully written. The emotions raised in the story are raw and powerful, and it’s a book that should be read by educators as well as young adults. It raises some terrible questions including, “How often are abused children like Julian overlooked or thought to be strange by teachers when, in fact, inquiring into their situation might change lives?” A powerful thought, indeed.
Please note: This review is based on the final, paperback book provided by the publisher, Hyperion Books, for review purposes.