Review: A List of Cages by Robin Roe

A List of Cages
by Robin Roe

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.

(cover image and summary lifted from Goodreads)

Series: Standalone
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Expected Publication date:  January 10th 2017
Source/Format: eARC via Netgalley
Pre-order links: Amazon | Barnes &Noble | Indigo | Kepler's Books | Book Depository
My Rating: ★★★☆☆

My Thoughts:
“A List of Cages” is like a cinnamon bread that the baker forgot to put egg-wash on. It is very tasty, and yes especially if it’s still warm and fresh from the oven, but it lacks the shine to make its appeal long-lasting. The book will leave fuzzy feelings inside right after reading but I doubt if it will ultimately shine when put side by side on the shelves with other egg-washed pieces of cinnamon bread, I mean books.

Julian is a high school freshman who deliberately skips his classes and spends his lunch breaks in a small secret room instead of the cramped school cafeteria. It is interesting to note here that whichever place he goes to for lunch, his space will always be suffocating  and restricted but he chooses to be alone and confined by walls instead of crowded by people. Then here comes darling of the crowd, Adam, who is in his senior year. Adam is always surrounded by friends, and when I say friends, I mean everyone because everyone seems to like him. As it turns out, Julian is Adam’s foster brother a few years back before Julian went under his Uncle Russel’s care. And when they meet again in high school, Adam (and friends) took Julian under his (their) wing and Adam made it his life’s mission to help him break out from the tiny world Julian is caging himself in.

The book’s strength is it’s very likable characters and the bond between them. Adam is popular in school, but not in a handsome jerky jock kind of way. He is like the class clown who also knows how to take in charge of a group. He is kind. He is nice. He is always friendly even with the teachers . He is this ever so happy, hoppity-hop kid who is the bringer of smiles and sweet warm sunbeams to any room he walks into. And of course, he is Julian’s hero. Julian is also kind and nice, even to a fault. For example, he does not fight back to a bullying classmate because he thinks that there is no such thing as a mean child, only an unhappy one. He is curiously timid with a touch of a rebel side because he does not talk back to his frustrated teachers but he continues to skip classes and avoid schoolwork so he could be alone to read his favorite adventure book series.  His reticence and meekness got me flipping through the pages fast because I seriously want to know what’s going on through his precious head.

The book is told though the dual points of view of Adam and Julian. Sometimes it works that the reader knows what they are both thinking and seeing but for the most part, in my opinion, it kind of hurts the flow of the story. There are these tense crucial Julian moments in the book’s second part when I am really anxious to know what’s really going on or what’s coming next but then it will cut off to check in on what’s happening to Adam. But then again this is Adam we are talking about and he is so damn likable that him sneaking through the scenes makes it alright. And I don’t know if the author is deliberately delaying these tight scenes to create tension on the reader or she is trying to ease the reader from the harrowing trauma of these scenes or what because whatever her purposes were between the two, it kind of worked. I have conflicting feelings about this.

As it is with most young adult contemporaries, “A List of Cages” finds a way to insert a romance subplot for our boy Adam. The girl love interest is also a likable character and deeply cares for Julian, too but I find myself always forgetting her name. I guess she is not that memorable to me. The book’s romance is a welcome distraction from the main plot but is hugely underdeveloped. But then again who cares, when I get to have more Adam and see his romantic side. It’s still a win for me. I told you I like Adam so much he can do no wrong in my eyes.

"A List of Cages" is a book with a big heart thanks to its very likable characters.  In some ways, “A List of Cages” is like a good episode of “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” but with lousy police work and minus the courtroom drama. For the record, I don’t care about the lacking police work and courtroom drama in the book because these are the show’s boring parts, TBH.  And I am not a big fan of the show but whenever I come across a good episode, I let myself get caught and finish watching until the end. In another light, “A List of Cages” is somewhat like “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”, with a bunch of seniors taking under their wing a misfit freshman and bring him in to somewhere he can truly belong. Both books are heartwarming and hopeful but between the two, I like “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” much more than I like “A List of Cages” maybe because the first gave me that memorable moment of infinity while the latter did not quite deliver a long-lasting impression of its theme. 
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