The most heartbreaking book you’ll ever read: ‘A List of Cages’

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Simon Albaugh, Reporter

I’ve never read a book that so violently disturbed me while still reaffirming every semblance of determination of will in human nature as well as Robin Roe’s “A List of Cages,” published Jan. 10. This book, I will honestly say, is one of the best I’ve ever read.

The novel draws from the connecting stories of Adam, a high school senior with ADHD, and Julian, a freshman in foster care after the sudden deaths of his parents.

Adam and Julian are former foster brothers, as Julian was originally assigned to live with Adam and his mother. When an uncle comes out of nowhere to claim his familial rights to raising Julian that he is forced to leave Adam’s family.

Their rekindling relationship after mysterious separation suddenly rockets both into the most trying period of their lives. While the ensuing events will change them from that point on, it’s up to them to take this opportunity to change for the better.

Roe is a practicing counselor for adolescents and draws on the common struggles that teenagers face, both small and massive. And as the story deepens, this becomes an increasingly difficult prospect to imagine.

What’s most interesting about this book is its stark contrast in characters. It shows the most popular senior in school, Adam, with a polar opposite bully fodder, freshman Julian. It’s through this difference that the author could describe the complexity of high school so beautifully.

Adam’s capacity to care for people can only be matched by Julian’s need for acceptance. And as the story develops, the reader is forced to come to the realization that even in the world’s horrid imperfection, people can eventually be spared from its abuses.

The book brings their relationship to a startling climax that, I’ll admit, is emotionally difficult to read. But just as Roe took great care into building this terrifying ordeal for the characters, she put just as much into ensuring that their eventual happiness is equally inevitable.

This author is part of a young tradition of modern melodrama that Hanya Yanagihara and Donna Tartt worked hard to set the tone for. And while Roe doesn’t necessarily have the immense literary talent that they do, the unique promise that she gives to her characters’ fate is likely to influence the genre in almost the same way.

This book is not for the reader who can’t handle heavy showing of suffering and tyranny by such a character’s close relative, but the beauty it eventually shows is only from understanding such hellish conditions.

I would recommend this book to psychology, social work and all education majors because of its absolutely essential look at every level in a system that can both fail and rescue a child from what can only be described as a living hell.

“A List of Cages” states that there are no evil people, only those who are unhappy. And just as that unhappiness can spread, I hope the eventual readers of this book can see Adam’s happiness as infectious to the same degree.

(Five out of Five Stars)