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A List of Cages

Review

A List of Cages

Robin Roe’s debut novel, A LIST OF CAGES, is an extraordinary tale of how unbreakable bonds of friendship intertwine with destiny. This unique coming of age story employs a dual narrative perspective, interchanging between Julian and Adam. Julian, age 14, is just beginning his high school career but is already known as an outcast. Julian’s love of Elian Mariner picture books singled him out from the first day of school. In addition, Julian lives in a perfect house but lives with anything but the ideal American family. In contrast, Adam, age 17, is the big man on campus and is seemingly known and loved by everybody. Adam’s one and only foible is his ADHD. Logically, Julian and Adam should have no reason to know each other but fate doesn’t always listen to logic.

The novel opens in the typical teenage environment, high school --- the perfect location for drama and angst. Julian’s personality is slowly revealed through flashbacks and narration which, in turn, explain his anxiety and lack of confidence. This point is furthered once Julian is required to have daily meetings with the school psychologist, Dr. Whitlock, in order to mitigate his nervousness. These meetings become critical to the novel because they function as the location for the first interaction between Adam and Julian.

"I can’t give enough praise to this book....No words are wasted as Roe pulls at the heartstrings of the reader, with the intensity increasing as each page goes by."

Coincidentally, Adam has just begun his volunteer work in the psychologist’s office and is then assigned to monitor Julian’s behavior outside of a formal environment. Upon meeting, Adam realizes that Julian was his foster brother for a few months four years ago after Julian’s parents were tragically killed in a car crash. Even more surprising is an earlier connection they had when Adam was Julian’s reading helper eight years ago. Adam and Julian’s lives were intertwined with an unbreakable bond from an early age that proves to be unbreakable time and time again.

From that point onward, Adam brings Julian under his wing by incorporating him into his circle of friends and guiding him whenever possible. Over the course of time Julian begins to develop into a more confident version of himself who uses his newfound happiness to restore balance in his life. Intermittently, particularly increasing in frequency towards the end, the story shifts to the specifics of Julian’s home life and his relationship with his sole caregiver, Uncle Russell. Without spoiling some of the more powerful aspects of the book, it is easy to predict that Russell won’t exactly be winning the “parent of the year award.”

Adam’s point of view takes on a much lighter tone as he deals with significantly less stressful issues. His conflicts mostly center on Julian’s issues but he does have a few problems of his own. When not being Julian’s rock, Adams deals with possible romantic feelings for a longtime friend and questions whether one of his friendships is more hurtful and helpful. Throughout his trials and tribulations Adam remains positive and demonstrates a vast capacity to put other’s needs ahead of his own.

I can’t give enough praise to this book. The narration and personal thoughts of both Julian and Adam made them both well developed and relatable. The minor characters highlighted both the flaws and the greatness within Adam and Julian. Even more impressively, when re-reading the novel I found many neatly interwoven harbingers of later events that are noticeable only if the reader is paying close attention. However, the aspect of this novel that I found most impressive was how powerful it is. No words are wasted as Roe pulls at the heartstrings of the reader, with the intensity increasing as each page goes by. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading books that deal with serious issues or to anyone who is looking for a quick read. I eagerly await Roe’s next novel.

Reviewed by Emily G., Teen Board Member on January 17, 2017

A List of Cages
by Robin Roe