“Hate ricochets, but kindness does too.”
In A List of Cages by Robin Roe, a compelling story is told of a boy named Julian who lost his parents at an early age and was taken in by the family of a boy named Adam. Several years later, Adam a Senior and Julian a Junior, they meet again only for Adam to realize the true reasons of what has held Julian back his whole life- thoughts of his dead parents, his uncle (I’ll get to him later), his friends, feeling left out, feeling trapped.
The two create an unbreakable bond of friendship, and thank goodness they did. As Adam becomes suspicious of Julian’s home life, he begins piecing together information. And when one tragic event occurs after another, Adam is able to save Julian in several ways through this bond, as difficult as times might be. A List of Cages is the type of novel that centers around a generic lesson (friendship) but then turns it into so much more.
DISCLAIMER: My book reviews encompass the entire book, therefore the contents that follow will likely spoil major parts of the story. If you are interested in purchasing the book, please do so before reading further. To read more of this post, please click Continue Reading.
First off, before I get into the actual plot of the story, I want to discuss how talented Robin is: her quotes, her phrasing, it was phenomenal. Just the quote above sends such a powerful message, and fully adds to the theme of the story. Or, how she set up the book itself: telling the story in two perspectives, and how this makes the reader feel the emotions of the story, while remaining on the edge of our seat near the end of the book.
As the reader begins to learn about both Adam and Julian’s backstory, I honestly felt like I was part of the story. Their friendship needed to be formed, or else I could only image what would have happened with Julian’s life. He appeared at just the right moment.
I found it very interesting that Adam and Julian had previously crossed paths before meeting at High School, but maybe it was meant to be. The character of Julian reminds me a bit of Harry Potter in the later books in that you felt that the character had gone through so much, and they just needed a reprieve. I was mad at how Julian was being treated.
And that, of course, leads me to a very important character: Russell. For the most part, he played a very mysterious role in the story: he whipped (I think) Julian whenever he was home, though he wasn’t home much at all, and he left Julian on his own. He would leave a $20 bill in return for his torture, and Julian would consistently miss school as a result of Russell, whom Julian was too scared to talk about. I don’t know about you, but Russell as a character is pretty bothering.
For a time, that seemed like everything that would come of Russel, until the end. The last few pages of the book left me wrapping my head around so many things. I was left in a state of, well, “What??”. I had to go back and reread several times. As it turned out, Russell recorded his torture sessions with Julian. What?? As it turned out, after escaping from sealing Julian inside of a trunk (a What?? in itself), he returned with a gun and would attempt to kill Adam if only to retrieve Julian, for what purpose? What?? He locked Julian in a trunk… What??? He ended up being killed by his own weapon? What?? He locked Julian in a trunk!! WHAT???
(I know I repeated myself there: it was on purpose)
The strange thing is, the reader never got a chance to understand Russell, unlike other characters like Charlie who would redeem themselves out of kindness. I thought that, when Russell returned, he would make things up. But, nope. Adam describes Russell as being “full of hate, up until his last breath”. And then, dead. There is know closure to Russell as a character (if you know what I mean), and the reader never really understands why Russell was so cruel.
My gosh, though, how important was that bond between Adam and Julian. I keep going back to, what would have happened if the two hadn’t met? Well, several things would have. First, Julian would continue to be tortured and have no voice, trapped by his own list of cages. Second, he’d be plain out dead, thanks to his trunk.
The value of that friendship was truly shown the night that Adam found Julian in his trunk, after Julian was mysteriously withdrawn from school and trapped IN A TRUNK. Who does this? Julian essentially passed out from starvation and lack of oxygen, and Adam rushed Julian to the hospital. The countless nights that he spent, deprived of sleep, sitting outside of Julian’s hospital room, truly shows how important Julian was to Adam, and why Adam was so important to Julian, in numerous ways. Thank goodness, in the end, Julian got to live with Adam and his family, yet they still felt distant, almost uncomfortable.
What would have happened had Adam and Julian not met??
And what about Adam’s friends as well? I’ll treat it as a miracle that Adam and Julian met. Coming from two separate families, further disconnected by the death of both of Julian’s parents. And Adam, the popular kid at school, was probably the least likely to befriend Julian. But as it turns out, maybe skipping class to sit around in the Guidance office has one benefit. (Read A List of Cages to understand)
I loved how supportive characters like Emerald were to Julian; they were more than happy to let him join their group, and spent nights with Adam in the hospital. Emerald and Adam were in a relationship, though it seemed like Julian broke them apart. I didn’t expect them to, but in the end, they got back together. Got to have a happy ending, I guess.
As is true in real life, because of his difficulties, Julian was isolated, and often resorted to a secret hiding space above the school’s auditorium. He was bullied about receiving a part in the School Play. But as Adam came along, the lessons about the value of friendship ring clear, among other things that should be taken into consideration in today’s society.
To finish off, I loved how, despite Julian’s differences, Robin gave Julian unique qualities and unique special moments of his life that would help give Julian some hope, such as how he would count stars at night with his father. They made Julian more real, though it also added sadness to the story as Julian recollects and refuses to do things in relation to the death of his parents. (Again, you’ll have to read the story to understand what I mean).
A List of Cages was a rollercoaster of events that quickly and completely changed the course of each character in the story. I’m not good (at all) at putting feelings into words, but the story gave the reader a sense of humanity. A List of Cages gave me a perspective on life that I hadn’t considered, and left me breathless as I took in Robin Roe’s astounding writing. I’m confident that many others would enjoy A List of Cages as much as I did.
Thank you so much for reading!