Published by Disney-Hyperion on January 10th 2017
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.
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
A List of Cages has gotten a lot of praise from throughout the Bookternet leading up to its release, and with good reason. Roe has produced a stunning debut novel that explores friendship, family, abuse, mental health, trauma, and growth. This story is raw and occasionally heartbreaking, but at its core, it’s hopeful. I read A List of Cages in one sitting on a plane ride– I simply could not put it down.
The story is told through two points of view. First, we have Adam, a popular high-school senior who also happens to have ADHD. I can say with confidence that Adam is one of the most genuinely kind, pure-hearted characters I have ever read. He’s just such a good guy. He cares so deeply for the people around him, and he’s so sure of himself. Adam isn’t perfect by any means, but he tries so hard, and his intentions are so pure. I thought the book presented a person living with ADHD accurately and sensitively. I also loved Adam’s group of friends; Charlie, Emerald, Camila, and the rest of the gang were the rare side characters that didn’t simply feel like fillers. Friendship is a strong theme throughout A List of Cages, and Adam’s group of friends perfectly embody what it is to care for and love others.
Next, of course, we have our other POV character, Julian. Reading about Julian’s circumstances and struggles shattered my heart into a million pieces. He, like Adam, is just a genuinely good person who deserves none of the lot he has somehow drawn in life. I loved reading about the brotherly friendship he developed with Adam throughout the novel. I had some reservations at first, but this didn’t end up playing out as a savior narrative at all; both boys contributed so much to the friendship and taught each other important lessons about being human. Julian underwent tremendous personal growth over the course of the story, and I found myself weeping at how proud I was of him. Parts of his narrative were so difficult to read (trigger warning for physical abuse), but from what I know from my training as an educator, Julian is representative of someone in an abusive household.
There were very few things I didn’t like about this book, but I will say I wasn’t completely sold on the romance. I didn’t dislike it; I just wasn’t entirely sure why I was supposed to care about or feel invested in the relationship between Adam and Emerald. It felt a bit unnecessary to the overall story, as well as underdeveloped. This is definitely a character-driven rather than plot-driven story: it’s all about the relationships, be they friendships, familial relationships, or romantic relationships. Personally, I love character-driven stories, but I did find myself willing the plot to move along at a quicker pace at times.
All in all, this book made me strive to be a more empathetic human. While I might not be able to fix everything for everyone in my life, showing kindness where you can is so, so important. A List of Cages might not be a *totally* perfect book, but it’s a stunning debut that will make you both think and feel. These characters and their love for one another filled my heart to bursting. I highly recommend you pick this one up!
Have you read A List of Cages? What are your thoughts?