A List of Cages by Robin Roe is a realistic fiction. Adam is a senior and one of his electives is to help out the school psychologist. He likes it because he gets to text his friends and his mom is a social worker. Adam is a social butterfly, brightening everyone’s moods willingly as he bounces around school (pretty literally, he has ADHD). He has a crush on his friend, Emerald, and his best friend, Charlie, is always in a bad mood because he has a million little siblings, but Adam doesn’t mind, he likes his whole crew (and pretty much everyone in general).

Julian was Adam’s kindergarten reading buddy, when Adam was in 5th grade, and eventually came to live at Adam’s house as a foster child for about a year when his parents died. Suddenly, Julian is removed from the house and told he actually does have a family member who can take him. Adam and his mother try to keep in contact but are given the wrong contact information. Then Adam doesn’t see Julian again for five years, when Julian is a freshman.

Meanwhile, Julian is living with his uncle who has told him that Adam’s family said they wanted him gone because he was spoiled. Julian believes this as well as many other things. He is painfully socially anxious and doesn’t talk to anyone at school. This is especially because he has dyslexia that he doesn’t receive services for. Julian likes reading the Elian Mariner picture book series because his parents bought him the books before they died. He gets made fun of for not being able to read or write well by his classmates and teachers. Julian spends most days ditching classes and hiding in a secret room in the school and then avoiding his uncle at night.

When Julian meets Adam again, he is hesitant because he really liked Adam and thought that Adam didn’t want him to live at his house and didn’t try to call. They start walking around school together and hanging out. The more Adam gets to know Julian again, the more Adam knows that something isn’t quite right.

The character development in this book as a plot device is outstanding. The characters don’t change too much, but they are both genuinely good people who act using what they are aware of, and the psychological limitations and assumptions they make twist the actions they take. The plot told through characterization is amazing to watch as it unwinds. The more knowledge that is shared, the crazier the things are that start to happen. Julian is still kind and mostly quiet at the end and Adam is still super positive and supportive to everyone. But they are both slightly changed. It is both obvious and subtle which makes it beautiful. I know I am being vague, but I don’t want to give away what happens.

I do love the slight clues that happen throughout the text and would love to talk to the author in person to see where she intentionally planted clues. She’s a teen counselor and said that this book is based on what she saw while counseling. I could pick out some things, but I’m sure there was a lot more to be seen. This might be a book that I read again to look for signs; and I usually don’t re-read books.

The pace is pretty meandering, but each scene reveals a little about the characters, their viewpoints, what they know already, and what they slowly find out about each other. The ending got so intensely fast and involved it satisfies the building curiosity you get about the characters as you read.

But mostly, I loved the voice. The chapters mostly alternate (until they pick a certain POV on purpose!!!!) between Julian and Adam’s narration. So, we get to know things about Julian that Adam either never finds out or doesn’t find out until later, and vice versa. Even though Julian is a high school freshman, he sounds like (and acts like) a 5-year-old. It’s eerie and thought-provoking. You will definitely cry. Or the book will just rip your soul out…

Read-alikes: Room by Emma Donoghue, Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chomsky, Every Last Word by Tamara Stone, Orbiting Jupiter by Gary Schmidt, The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin