A List of Cages – Robin Roe

This book is jarringly, unquestionably sad. It is basically a dystopian novel. How can people get so messed up? How can the world be so cruel? What did anyone ever do to deserve something like this?


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…


This book is jarringly, unquestionably sad. It is basically a dystopian novel. How can people get so messed up? How can the world be so cruel? What did anyone ever do to deserve something like this?

I have to hand it to Robin Roe. The plotline spirals so out of control, and yet still seems plausible. Jeez, I need to read some fluffy chick-lit after this. This book is deep, dark, and depressing. I don’t like to throw around that word casually, but I don’t know how else to describe it. Thinking about people doing such horrendous things is depressing.

Everyone in this book has their issues. Julian has had to overcome so much, and he is so, so lucky to have someone like Adam save him. At the same time, he has been so, so UNLUCKY to require saving in the first place. How much of our lives is due to some twist of fate? I don’t know who should be blamed for something like dyslexia. Whose fault is that? And who should be blamed for accidents? It’s a little confusing and definitely opens an existential can of worms.

Then there’s Adam. He couldn’t protect others like Charlie, but everyone else in the world understands how he saves the world every day. There’s something about people so effervescent and luminous that they brighten the whole world. As cheesy as it sounds, Adam is the sun.

Emerald is such a complex character too. I am so grateful she doesn’t serve as some femme fatale. She has her problems, and I would be fascinated to learn more about her story. I understand why she said the things she did. I understand what caused her to snap — thanks, Camila. But then that makes me wonder about Camila too, and why she did the things she did. And how the natural order of things (in their friendship) was still salvageable.

Even the teachers are fascinating characters. Mrs. Cross does a lot of good, but even she isn’t infinitely patient. And Ms. Whitlocke can only make do with what she knows. And that one angry teacher (whose name I already forget)… well, she serves as such an interesting foil to every other supportive adult figure in the book (minus Russell, naturally).

This book was such a hard read. I struggled through it. It was so bleak. I don’t know if it was worth reading. How do you even come up with a book like this?

Related Reading

  • Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock – Matthew Quick
  • The Universe Versus Alex Woods – Gavin Extence
  • The Problem With Forever – Jennifer L. Armentrout
  • OCD Love Story – Corey Ann Haydu

Rating: 3/5


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