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 kindhearted. 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 was one of the most beautiful and heart-wrenching books of 2017, and I don’t know why I waited to long to read it. It was poignant, and heartfelt, and just so, so spectacular. A List of Cages is about so many things — abuse, disabilities, mental health, family, and love — but every aspect of this book came together to weave an unforgettable tale that’s ultimately about the friendship between two high school boys and how this literally saves one of their lives. I can’t understate how emotional this novel is, and it’s one that’s sure to stay with you for a very long time to come. I know it’s one I’m going to be recommending for many, many years in the future. Wow. Just wow.
These two boys, Julian and Adam, made this story what it was. They were two precious beings who I just wanted to hug and ensure nothing bad ever happened to me, and it hurt my heart to read about some of the things they had to endure. It was unbelievably heartbreaking, and a lot of this book was really hard to read. These characters felt so real and as though they could walk right off the pages, and that’s what made this novel such a hard read at times. I haven’t cried that much in a book since History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera. You’re going to need a box of tissues on hand when you read this one.
I absolutely loved how this book was narrated by both Julian and Adam, and I felt that both of their voices were so different and genuine. Having chapters from both their points of view enabled me to connect with both of them on such an emotional level, and every time something bad happened to either Julian or Adam, I felt like my heart was being ripped from my chest. The four-year age gap between these two high school students made their friendship almost brotherly. It was just so heartwarming to read about.
The mental health rep in this book was also really well done. Adam has ADHD and I haven’t read many YA novels with protagonists who have ADHD, but this one felt incredibly realistic. There were discussions about medication, and homeopathic remedies, and how Adam manages his ADHD, and I loved the conversations that this started in the novel. Then there was Julian, who had dyslexia. I hated how his teachers treated him as though this was his own fault, and ‘invisible’ disabilities are ignored by so many people or they ignore the very real impact it has on the person trying to manage or live with it. As the book progressed, it became apparent that Julian was also dealing with a range of other mental health problems and while not all of these were addressed to the degree I would have liked, it was still fantastic to see this representation.
A List of Cages isn’t a book for the faint-hearted. It’s confronting, it will definitely be triggering for some, and there were moments when what was happening in the novel felt so real that I felt physically ill and had to put the book down. It was just so gut-wrenching. Seeing Julian live in an abusive environment was like a sucker punch to my feels — I wanted to protect this kid, but I was helpless and could do nothing but read on. The last quarter of this novel was one of the hardest things I’ve ever read, but it’s something that needs to be read and it needs to be discussed. While the abuse in this book is very unsettling and difficult to read, it’s the type of representation that YA needed. A List of Cages is just a must-read.
Ultimately, A List of Cages is a gut-wrenching, powerful novel about abuse and friendship, and with characters that leap right off the pages and a story that will tug at your heartstrings and leave you craving more. It was beautifully-written and incorporated every aspect stunningly to create something that will be remembered for years to come. I can’t recommend this novel highly enough. A List of Cages is a book that demands to be read and reread, leaving you slightly changed once you finish it from when you started. It’s simply phenomenal.
Have you read A List of Cages yet? Have you read any books similar? What’s the book that’s made you cry the most? I’d love to know!
A song that reminds me of A List of Cages is…