111 pages 3 hours read

Robin Roe

A List of Cages

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2017

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Summary and Study Guide


A List of Cages is a 2017 young adult novel by Robin Roe. The story centers on the friendship between two teenagers, Adam Blake and Julian Harlow. Adam and Julian first become friends when Adam is Julian's reading buddy in grammar school. The friendship deepens when Julian's parents die, and he lives in Adam’s house as a foster child. Although they knew each other in grammar school, the main action of this story takes place during one academic year while they attend the same high school. Adam is a senior and Julian is a freshman. Adam reaches out to Julian and includes him in his close circle of senior friends although Julian wears worn and unproperly fit clothing, and students in the school perceive Julian to be socially awkward, weird, and not very smart. A subplot of this story is how Julian overcomes social anxiety with the help of Adam, but the main plot emerges when Adam discovers that Julian is being abused by his uncle and guardian, Russell. Adam's efforts to help Julian escape from his abuser become the catalyst for both Adam and Julian's ultimate growth and change.

Most of the major plot events in Part 1 revolve around Julian missing classes or school. The first time Russell beats Julian with a switch is because Julian is not attending some of his classes. After Julian has missed school three days in a row, Dr. Whitlock, the school psychologist, gives Adam permission to go to Julian's house to check on him during school hours. Russell is not at the house, and Julian lets Adam come inside, which violates one of Russell's rules (that nobody should come in the house). Julian tells Adam that the reason he hasn't attended school is because he's sick, and Adam goes home and tells this to his mother, Catherine. Catherine used to be Julian's foster mom, and she packs a bag of home remedies for Julian, and Adam returns to Julian's house to deliver them. This time, Russell comes to the door and asks Adam why he would want to be friends with Julian since Adam is a senior and Julian is a freshman. When Adam simply replies that Julian is his friend, Russell tells Adam that Julian needs friends his own age, and slams the door in Adam's face.

Adam confides in his girlfriend, Emerald, that he can just feel "that something is off" with Russell (155). Meanwhile, Russell confronts Julian about letting Adam in the house, and this time he doesn't just punish him with a switch, but hits Julian in the face. After he beats Julian, Russell leaves the house, and Julian rides his bicycle back to his old house, where he used to live with his parents.

Brittany, a friend of Adam's who now lives in Julian's former parents' house, calls Adam and tells him Julian is outside. Adam picks up Julian outside of Brittany's house, and sees Julian's damaged face and bloody T-shirt, and takes the abused Julian back to Emerald's house. Adam wants to call the police, but Julian pleads with Adam not to call, and Emerald convinces Adam that if he calls the police, it might actually make things worse for Julian. Adam listens to Emerald and decides not to call. Adam and Emerald clean Julian's wounds and take care of him until Julian returns.

Part 2 opens with school letting out for spring break. Julian tells Adam that he has gotten a speaking part in the school play. The play director, however, gives the part to another student because Julian can't remember his lines. Adam forces Julian to learn the lines, and Julian improves. Adam, Emerald, and another close friend of Adam's, Charlie Taylor, plead with the theater teacher to give Julian a second chance, and she agrees. Julian is surprised when Adam's friends attend the play to support him and stand up cheering for him. Julian now sees he has true friends who love him, and this gives Julian new courage.

Julian goes home one day wearing one of Adam's shirts, and Russell asks Julian what he is doing for Adam to give him the shirt. When Julian replies that Adam gave him the shirt because Adam knows his own clothes don't fit, Russell asks Julian how Adam would know that. Julian replies "'Because he can see!'" (196). For the first time, Julian stands up for himself. He tells Russell that he hasn't done anything wrong, and Russell now realizes Julian is beginning to fight back, which is another violation of Russell’s rules. Because Julian is fighting back, Russell withdraws Julian from school, and he tells Julian he's not going to live with Russell anymore. He says Julian is going to live with his (Russell’s) sister, Nora. While Julian is packing, however, Russell decides he will give Julian one more chance to learn his lessons. He forces Julian to get in his own steel trunk that his parents gave him, and he locks him inside of it with a heavy padlock.

It has been nineteen days since Adam has seen Julian, and Adam is struggling with a feeling that something is strange about Julian withdrawing from school only weeks before the school year ends. Adam even has a nightmare about suffocation, and after he wakes from this nightmare, he ends up driving by Russell's house. When Russell doesn't come to the front door, Adam breaks a window, enters the house and finds Julian locked in the trunk. He takes Julian to the emergency room; the police swear issue a warrant for Russell on grounds of child abuse.

Julian attends group therapy as a patient in the hospital. As part of his therapy, his counselor directs him to make a list of all the fears that kept him trapped in the past and threaten to keep him trapped in the future. Julian eventually realizes that it was not Russell that kept him trapped, but his own fears, so he agrees to cooperate with the counselor and write down his “list of cages” (275). Adam, who usually bounces back from anything, now becomes moody and cries constantly. He’s haunted by finding Julian locked in the trunk and blames himself for not calling the police the first time he found out about his abuse.

Adam's mother suggests Adam have a graduation party to cheer him up. Russell appears in the backyard of the party, pulls out a gun, and tries to abduct Julian and kill Adam. Adam cries at gun point, but Charlie Taylor acts swiftly and wrestles Russell to the ground until the gun goes off and kills Russell.

The story ends with a birthday party for Julian at Emerald’s house in July, after the school term ends. Adam’s mother has gained custody of Julian, and Julian is now surrounded by the people he loves.