a list of cages

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…

Sorta spoilery, beware!

There are a lot of triggering topics in this book (mostly physical and mental abuse), so some parts are heartbreakingly tough to read, but I cannot stress this enough: this book is so important.

Robin Roe has a lovely, metaphor-filled style, and she managed to create a perfect example of what showing and not telling looks like. While reading Julian and Adam’s story, I felt worried, apprehensive, happy, relieved, without being told that that was how the characters were feeling. From the very beginning, I was scared of Julian’s uncle even before he did anything, before we were even told he’d done anything, just from Julian’s physical responses. The narrative was subtle in a way that let me know that something bad had happened, without being brusk about it.

The characters were very well developed, and I kept noticing the contrast between Adam and Julian’s lives. They both had good and bad things, but where Adam was loud and happy and social, Julian was quiet and small and lonely. In some small ways, Julian reminded me of my brother, and I kept wanting to somehow gather him up into my arms and tell him that everything would be alright.

I love how the relationships were developed, not just Julian and Adam’s, but Julian and Charlie’s, and Adam and Emerald’s. Humans are so lovely and full of flaws, and the story reflected just that.

I have to be honest, though, I was not expecting this book to take the dark turns it did. It got to a point where I just stopped taking notes because I couldn’t quite comprehend what had happened (so much so that my last sticky note simply said “EVERYTHING BLEW UP”). The world can be such a messed up place.

This book, man, it made me ugly cry. All the bullying and the grown-ups who just won’t listen, it all just left me a sobbing mess. Having dealt with this sort of thing my whole life, like so many other kids, Julian’s story wrapped itself around my heart and squeezed. I just…I just hate bullying so freaking much.

If you’re going to take away anything from this story, let it be the following: don’t be a bystander. Do something. Don’t just watch and then duck away. Reach out to your fellow human beings. Be kind.