I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.A List of Cages by Robin Roe
Published by Disney-Hyperion on January 10th 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Social Themes, Physical & Emotional Abuse, Family, Orphans & Foster Homes, Friendship
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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. First-time novelist Robin Roe relied on life experience when writing this exquisite, gripping story featuring two lionhearted characters.
A List Of Cages by Robin Roe is a book that absolutely gutted me. I still feel emotional thinking about my second read of 2017. This is a book that hit really close to home, as my career field of choice is human services-social work. And well, A List Of Cages is one read where it was impossible to take off my social work hat. Frankly, that’s okay with me as I love my field and this book reminds me that those in my field do great work. It also reaffirms why I do the work that I do.
A List Of Cages follows the point of view of two boys – Julian and Adam. The two have various connections to each other as they weave in and out of each other’s lives. You see, at first, Julian and Adam were reading buddies. What this means is that when Adam was in fifth grade, his class had a volunteer project where they helped the kindergartners read. Julian was placed with the kindergarten reading group despite actually being in second grade. Then, later on, they interacted due to Adam’s mom taking on Julian as a foster kid.
Now, in present day as the book is set – their lives cross paths when Adam is serving as an office aide to the school psychologist. His job is to track Julian down and bring him to his office visits with the psychologist. Over time, they begin to renew their friendship. Adam begins to suspect that there’s something shady going on with Julian’s home life, but to tell anyone or to act on the knowledge may put the lives of both boys at risk.
So, I’m going to get all social worker on you when talking about Julian BECAUSE I CANNOT HELP IT YOU GUYS. So, Julian is a primary example of what can happen when the system fails kids at every turn. I see consistent interactions in Julian’s life being not trauma informed. Julian, FYI, has undergone some major trauma in his life. Trauma informed means that you operate from a mode of understanding trauma and use evidence based practices to work with some. Instead of asking from a blaming standpoint, you ask “what happened to you” and recognize that trauma. So, that out of the way so many adults just fail Julian over and over.
First, Julian has a learning disorder which seems to be undiagnosed. Yet, no one really goes to bat for him to get an IEP with reasonable accommodations and extra help. Instead, it seems Julian is just passed from grade to grade. Teachers are mean to him too, instead of being understanding of his needs and why he isn’t learning according to their time table. At heart though, Julian remains a kind souled kid despite having every reason to be a mean, hateful, spiteful person. He’s not. He rises above that, but he still has his issues for sure. Julian is very timid and has no friends in his grade. He’s bullied. He isn’t adequately cared for. Thank goodness for the kindness of another person, Adam.
Adam is a relatively popular senior boy. Adam also happens to have ADHD. He and his mother approach his treatment in a variety of ways. At first, they tried medication. Then, they tried changing his diet. Adam uses different strategies to manage this. I loved that. It rings true to life. Anyways, so Adam lives with just his mother who is a social worker and who has fostered a number of children over the years. When Julian is back in his life as part of his office aid work, Adam treats him with dignity and kindness. He doesn’t laugh at or judge Julian. Instead, he works on integrating Julian into his friend group. This very integration, FYI, made me cry several times. Actually, I am tearing up typing this and thinking about it. HORMONES!
So, Adam is someone that we in the social work world would say operates from a strength-based approach. He doesn’t immediately connect with Julian and tell him all the things that are wrong with him. Instead, he focuses on his strengths. He lets Julian know that he is a good writer. He lets Julian know that he has a good heart. Adam acts as a wonderful support and resource for Julian. However, there’s a few moments where Adam makes some missteps, as he is a human and a teenager.
A List Of Cages by Robin Roe takes on some very heavy themes. Child abuse and trauma factor heavily into this book and into Julian’s life. I will have you know that I sobbed, just buckets on buckets, of tears from halfway through the book all the way until the end of the acknowledgements (not that the acknowledgements were sad, I just had a lot of emotions). As I said, this book hits really close to home to me. If you think that Julian’s story sounds too tragic to be true, I assure you that you are very wrong and likely leading a very charmed life. However, lest you think I make this book sound too dark, I will say that this book illustrates that it is always darkest before the dawn. There is hope and the ending is powerful and affirming.
And an aside for my other social workers out there I was struck by a few things: 1) When Julian misses school on a consistent basis for three days at a time, why wasn’t a report made to child protective services? This is what we call educational neglect in the field and questions really should be asked. In NY this is considered reportable. 2) The school acknowledges that Julian needs to see the psychologist, yet, he clearly has all these issues reading, why does he not have an IEP (individualized education plan) and how has he not had a CSE meeting (Committee for special education)? I suppose I could answer this by saying his uncle who has custody of him isn’t very involved, but even so, his grades are definitely cause for concern. 3) There’s accuracy in how the law guardian (lawyer for the children, guardian ad litem) whatever you call it in your state is represented. This is the first book I’ve read where there’s actually a law guardian and thus, it’s awesome to see someone representing the child welfare system accurately. 4) There’s a few red flags in Julian’s interactions and events that made me feel concerned, but apparently did not concern the school psychologist all that much? Hmmm. Anyways, in all, this is one of the better books that has connections to social work out there.
So, as prompted for this post, I thought I’d list out a few of my own personal Kindness Goals For 2017:
- I’d like to act with more empathy and less immediate snap judgment. If someone is being rude to me, instead of being rude back, I’d like to ask myself if maybe they are having a bad day and treat them with more empathy and kindness.
- I’d like to try to do at least one random act of kindness per month. I think that this is especially important with a child on the way, because I’d like to model how to be a good person for my child.
- I’d like to continue to donate books to those who are in need (selfish goal though because this benefits my decluttering goal).
Other reviews of A List of Cages:
- Novel Novice – “one of those heartbreaking, breathtaking, life-changing books“
- The Fandom – “digs into your soul and stuffs you full of raw emotion“
- Quite The Novel Idea – “a very tough book to read at times“
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A List of Cages
By Robin Roe
In stores January 10, 2017
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.
First-time novelist Robin Roe relied on life experience when writing this exquisite, gripping story featuring two lionhearted characters.
Praise for A List of Cages
- “A remarkably gripping and moving tale of a life saved—in more than one way—by the power of friendship.” —Emma Donoghue, best-selling author of Room
- “As inspiring as it is heartbreaking, A List of Cages is a hero story you will never forget.” —Tamara Ireland Stone, best-selling author of Every Last Word
- “A poignant, hopeful story about loss, grief, abuse, and the transformative power of friendship.” —Amber Smith, New York Times best-selling author of The Way I Used to Be
- “A triumphant story about the power of friendship and of truly being seen.” —Kirkus Reviews starred review
- “A page-turner with a lot of compassion.” —Booklist starred review
About the Author
Robin Roe has a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and a master’s from Harvard. She counseled adolescents in Boston before she moved to Dallas, Texas to run a mentoring program for at-risk teens. This is her first novel.
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