I want to start this review by saying that this book contains disturbing content specifically related to child abuse and mental illness.
When I picked up A List of Cages I had no idea what was coming. This book was recommended to me by a staff member at Powell's. He simply told me I had to read it. And he was right.
Beautifully timed and heartbreakingly real, A List of Cages tells a powerful story of friendship told from the dual perspective of Julian and Adam.
Adam is a popular and bouncy high school senior. He has an amazing group of friends, is heading to college next year, and cruises through every day with palpable joy.
Julian is a timid, often ridiculed, and friendless high school freshman who has trouble making it through the day. He eats lunch by himself in a secret room and wishes regularly that he could disappear.
"I used to think that if I concentrated, I could make myself disappear. I don't believe that anymore, but sometimes I still have to try."
The boys have a past. After Julian's parents died in a car crash, Adam's mom, a social worker, took Julian in and he lived with them for a while. Then an uncle came along and took Julian away. Julian and Adam haven't seen each other in years when a chance encounter at the start of the school year leaves them walking down the same hall. Adam tries to reach out, in slight disbelief that the Julian he used to know is standing in front of him, but Julian bolts.
Then by another chance encounter, Adam gets assigned Julian again. Julian struggles with mental illness and as a result has weekly meetings with the school guidance counselor. It becomes Adam's job to make sure Julian makes it to the meetings because he's already developed a habit of cutting class.
These meetings bring the boys together again and they slowly start a friendship as Adam begins taking Julian under his wing, inviting him to hang out with his friends in the cafeteria and on weekends. But the closer Adam gets to Julian, the more he suspects something isn't quite right and his suspicion lands on Julian's home life.
If Julian's uncle is so wealthy and can afford fancy cars and a fancy house, why is Julian always wearing clothes that don't fit? Why is Julian never allowed to have friends over? Why doesn't he have a cell phone? And why is he suddenly absent for days at a time?
Then one night Adam finds Julian in a daze out in the cold and everything changes. He embarks on a journey to save Julian that will put both their lives in danger.
Dazzling and painful, A List of Cages shows how far people are willing to go in the name of friendship. It shows us that the marks we leave on other people are a powerful thing even if we don't always realize it.
"It's strange how many ways there are to miss someone. You miss the things they did and who they were, but you also miss who you were to them. The way everything you said or did was beautiful or entertaining or important. How much you mattered."
I'm not going to lie, I cried quite a bit through the end of this book. It also made me extremely anxious. But it was so worth it in the end. This book is a reminder that our friends not only keep us grounded, they tie us to reality, they make our lives worth living, they fill us up with joy and laughter and love even in the most desperate times.
A List of Cages is available for checkout now in The Book Ship Project library!
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