I absolutely loved A List of Cages for its beautiful characters, twisty plot, and all around emotional read.
A List of Cages tells the story of Adam, tasked with escorting his foster brother, Julian, to the school counselor, and Julian, a quiet boy whose silence hides secrets he cannot voice. Only as Adam begins to see Julian, and get to know him does he suspect the mystery and perhaps danger about where Julian goes during the day and what he does at home.
I cannot decide if I enjoy the sheer brilliant way that the story is crafted or the characters more. Let’s begin with the story. The tension between Julian and Adam’s chapters, the way it flips back and forth, building to the final crescendo is masterful. The gnawing at the pit of your stomach increases as more and more is revealed. Even the perspectives of the two protagonists are written beautifully. They weave in and out balancing an almost childlike naivety while revealing facts that appeal to an older reader. Everything about the perspectives are spot on.
The Main Characters
‘N-no one wants to hurt anyone. They d-do it because they’re unhappy’. (181)
This is, of course, helped by two fantastic main characters. Adam is not only a bit of a goof, but also incredibly kind hearted. He can make mistakes, and does out of youth, but his heart is good. Always trying to help, his intentions shine through and we end up rooting for him. Julian is a fluff ball of touching. He is so heartbreakingly genuine, honest, and vulnerable. Not only is he younger, but he possesses a wisdom that is unusual for a child. He has the ability to look at you and see you, to accept your mistakes, and give you his forgiveness. His deep empathy wins him the love of his older peers, and the readers, because his affection is tender and fragile.
Not for those who shy away from discomfort, this book is incredibly emotional. It is about the almost universal ache we have for love and acknowledgment. The desire to be heard and seen. It is about the danger that exists when we do not receive that love and the ways it turns us sharp edged and monstrous.
The Side Characters
The side characters are incredibly complex. They illustrate different levels of this same struggle. Whether it be losing a friend/parent, being out of touch with a lover, or forming new friendships, you can see it all. Not merely plot devices, they step off the page and into your hearts.
How it Resonates
I used to think struggle was what aged you…Now I wonder if the opposite is true. Maybe instead of accelerating your age, pain won’t let you grow. (170)
In a touching way, the story resonates with our indecision and difficulty in speaking up. As a child, how do you know when to speak up, and what resources are available to you? For example, just think of the plot line of Atonement when a child speaks up in a way that results from a misunderstanding and radically alters the lives of her whole family. The issue of speaking up is not an easy one and Roe does not let us off the hook. However, the brilliance is that this remains a difficult choice our entire lives. Not only as a child, but also as an adult, we struggle with knowing when to speak up and how to speak up when we sense something is amiss.
As we read page after page, we connect deeply with the characters. Just like they are unable to figure out what to say, or who to talk to, we, as readers, became vulnerable and powerless. What makes the story so powerful and poignant is the way it displays the power of love and compassion with the creation of a surrogate family of sorts. Throughout our lives, we create relationships of support and love with friends who become our fiercest advocates. This book is trumpeting the power of love to heal, in more ways than one. I highly recommend this thought provoking and emotional book in a recommendation that may also end up healing you and certainly showing you the power of love.
What is the last book you read with a child protagonist?
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