A List of Cages by Robin Roe
Published January 10, 2017 by Disney-Hyperion
Source: the publisher via Netgalley
Rating: 5 stars
From the blurb: 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.
A List of Cages is Robin Roe's debut novel. Fourteen year old Julian has lived with his uncle for the past four years. Prior to that he was in foster care after the death of his parents. Julian misses his parents everyday. They were wonderful parents and he doesn't understand why they would leave him. Adam, a senior, has ADD. He lives with his mum, a former social worker. He's a pretty happy guy, he has a bunch of close friends, and he manages his ADD using homeopathy and nutrition, something he started after he reacted badly to medications a few years back and his mum decided to try a different approach.
I didn't know much about the plot of this book when I requested it, it was mostly a cover-choice, but I'm so glad I read it. I was about to say that I enjoyed it, but I don't know if I can use the word enjoy with a book like this. I haven't had such a visceral reaction to a book in a long, long time. I felt a range of things: sickened, sadness, disgust, anger. And I really felt them, so much so that I had to keep stopping to take a breath and calm down. I know this sort of reaction might put people off, but I hope you won't let it stop you from reading this amazing book.
Julian's life felt so real and scary. From the first time his home is described I could feel the creepy and anxiety-inducing environment that he lives in. Julian's uncle is abusive, seeming to stem from his own trauma as a teenager. Julian has been enduring this for so long that he doesn't want anything to change, he doesn't want to be punished for getting his uncle in trouble. It was absolutely heartbreaking.
Adam comes back into Julian's life just at the right time. Julian's school attendance is slipping and he often hides in a secret room at school, but once Adam starts hanging out with him, he's able to make some progress.
My only issue, and it's a minor one, was the ending. There's a dramatic final scene and while something major happens, the consequences for one of the secondary characters was never explained. Also, despite feeling so much throughout this story, I didn't feel quite as connected to Julian or Adam as I would have expected.
Ableist language: crazy, idiot, insane, lame, dumb.
A List of Cages is an impressive, compelling debut novel, and a powerful, important story. It's perfectly paced, hauntingly atmospheric, and so real it's heartbreaking.
Thank you to Disney Hyperion for my Netgalley copy.
I love this cover, it stands out with the bold choice of navy blue and yellow on white, and it was definitely a major factor in my decision to request this book.
I started with a base of white nail polish and used navy blue and yellow for the illustration.