A List of Cages Summary

Robin Roe

A List of Cages

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A List of Cages Summary

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A List of Cages is a young adult contemporary novel by Robin Roe. Published in 2017 by Disney-Hyperion, this debut tells the story of a young boy who comes to terms with his own mental health issues through working as an aide to the school psychologist. The book was very well received by both critics and general readers, and it was nominated for both the 2017 Goodreads Choice Award for Young Adult Fiction and the 2019 Lincoln Award. Roe worked as a counsellor in Boston before running a mentoring program for high-risk teens in Dallas.

The protagonist, Adam Blake, seems to have a great life. Everyone likes him, and he has lots of friends. He suffers from ADHD, but his mother treats it with natural medicines, and he functions well at school and outside. When he’s accepted onto his ideal elective, helping the school psychologist, he’s ecstatic. He thinks this will be his chance to make a difference, and he can’t wait to get started.

When he meets with the school psychologist, he’s assigned his first job. He needs to find a fellow student, Julian, and have him attend his counselling session. Adam is eager to do a good job, so he goes looking for Julian right away. He knows Julian’s an incoming freshman, and he knows how tough this can be. When he finds him, however, he gets a serious shock. He already knows Julian very well.

Julian is Adam’s opposite. He’s shy and quiet, and he suffers from dyslexia. But more than this, Julian is Adam’s former foster brother. Julian’s parents died in a serious car accident fiver years ago, and Adam’s parents agreed to foster him. Adam and Julian became very close, like true brothers, and Adam helped him cope with feelings of depression and pain because of what happened.

However, Julian’s uncle turned up and took him away. Adam’s parents had no choice but to let him go. However, Julian’s uncle can’t tolerate his behavioural difficulties and makes him feel bad about them. He makes Julian feel like there’s something wrong with him. When Julian wants to sit quietly and read children’s books, his uncle doesn’t let him. Julian appears on the outside to be coping with all of this, but he’s struggling. He’s suppressing his feelings.

Adam knows Julian’s personality and he accepts him as he is. He also knows Julian needs help, but he doesn’t know how badly Julian is treated by his uncle until they spend more time together. For example, Adam learns that Julian’s uncle locked him a chest for days at a time, and that this chest belonged to Julian’s parents. To make matters even worse, Julian’s bullied by kids at school for his shy and introverted nature. No one knows how to deal with him except Adam, which is why he hasn’t been showing up to his counselling sessions.

Adam knows that Julian needs more help than he can give him, especially when he learns that Julian’s uncle beats him and lives in a beautiful home while Julian wears tattered clothes. He knows Julian needs to get away from his uncle, and that he should tell the counsellor what’s happening to him. It’s the only way he’ll get what he needs, and Adam sees it as his duty to make sure Julian’s looked after. However, Julian’s still family to him, so the stakes are even higher.

Adam does what he can for Julian. He takes him under his wing and looks out for him in social situations, such as parties. For example, he tells Julian not to drink much and keep his wits about him, and that you don’t have to drink to have fun. His devoted protection of Julian stops the other kids from bullying him anymore, and it’s possible for Julian to make friends of his own.

Roe brings her own understanding of the counselling system to A List of Cages. She uses authentic examples of assignments the counsellor gives Julian, and his reactions are equally realistic. Julian also describes what it was like to lose his parents in harrowing but true detail. Roe captures the conflicting feelings young people have about psychologists, such as how they’re expected to tell this person things which are so sensitive they’re kept confidential. Julian doesn’t know how he feels about this, and it’s these details which enrich the book.

Sadly, it still takes a horrible event for Julian to get the help he needs. He’s hospitalised after his uncle brutalises him, and he almost dies. It’s also revealed at this point that Julian has an eating disorder. What’s worse is that Julian doesn’t recognise that his uncle is abusing him, and he needs to get away. However, this final incident is a turning point for him, and he’ll now get what support he needs.

A List of Cages focuses on the power of friendships for healing and how medication isn’t always the answer for everything—or the only way to give children with disabilities a normal life.