Books about damaged people in painful situations have the tendency to read as lurid, even prurient. Although A List of Cages will make you feel many, many things, Robin Roe‘s debut novel handles its subject matter with care and authority.
When Adam, a caring high school senior, is assigned to escort a younger student to his therapy sessions each week, he doesn’t expect to find Julian waiting for him. The two boys have a history. In fifth grade, Adam was assigned to help Julian — who has dyslexia — improve his reading skills. A few years later, the recently orphaned Julian appeared on Adam’s doorstep as the foster child his mother had prepared for. Then Julian went to live with Russell, his late mother’s brother-in-law, and Adam and his mother lost track of the small, talented little boy they’d come to love.
Reunited with Julian, Adam is eager to continue their friendship from where it left off, and the younger boy’s shyness and skittishness slowly give way to a kind of cautious affection. But Julian’s life has different rules than Adam’s, and, as Adam begins to unravel the secrets that keep Julian quiet, both of their lives may hang in the balance.
A List of Cages features a large cast of characters, none of them perfect. Where the novel shines brightest is in its representation of Julian’s school life, however. Teachers and students alike find the poorly-cared-for 14-year-old insufferable, and they frequently and openly humiliate him. In spite of its young adult label, Roe’s debut novel can help people of any age think twice about judging a child before getting to know them.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.
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