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A List of Cages
Before I dive into the first review of the year, a few housekeeping notes.
We are, as we have been doing, plan to review in roughly chronological order. So for the next month, we’ll focus on Q1 books, those published between January and March 2017. We’re not going to be super strict about this — sometimes we’ll bump a book up or hold it, for example if we think it goes well with something else, or if we have’t read it and end up circling back to it. But we’re hoping this will make it more likely that people who don’t have amazing ARC/galley access will have read books we discuss by the time we discuss them.
In the past, we’ve always shared a list — more recently, an abbreviated list of 25 titles. It’s always sort of arbitrary (although I could tell you already the 10 books I am pulling for hardest). We’re tempted to skip it this year — but we’ll defer to reader opinion. Let us know.
And of course, as always, we are reviewing specifically for Printz speculation, which means we’re mostly looking for what’s wrong with books — because in the end it’s an elimination game, and being a great book isn’t enough.
Now, on to the first review of the year.
A List of Cages, Robin Roe
Hyperion, January 2017
Reviewed from ARC
I totally avoided this one for months, because sometimes I just can’t do depressing, and I had a feeling this was going to be a rough read. But we still use three stars as a cutoff for books we take the time to read, and A List of Cages has four, which meant I couldn’t put it off forever.
So I read it. And yeah, it was a tough read. Lots of ugly tears — and a moment at the end when I actually had to flip forward and make sure someone wasn’t dead, and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t breathing for a solid 20 second there. Emotionally, I was all in on this.
But of course, ugly tears, while an important marker of a book’s emotional effectiveness, are not in the Printz criteria.
There are strong notes of The Perks of Being a Wallflower here — we have a younger and immature student stuck in a secretly abusive situation and befriended by immensely cool older students — but the details are so different that it doesn’t come across as less original for the resonance. There’s significant evidence that Roe knows her stuff; Julian’s behavior and the terrible situation with his uncle feel uncomfortably possible, and Julian and Adam both have distinct, believable voices that sound like teens, even if Adam is a little too good to be true.
Indeed, looking at the criteria, this has a lot going for it — voice, story, plot are all excellent and characterization is strong despite the Mary Sue-ishness of Adam.
So does it have what it takes? In this case, I think it’s not about what this book does wrong but about whether this is good enough to be the very very top of the heap. And for me, it’s good — but not quite as good as at least five other books I can name. What do you think?
About Karyn Silverman
Karyn Silverman is the High School Librarian and Educational Technology Department Chair at LREI, Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School (say that ten times fast!). Karyn has served on YALSA’s Quick Picks and Best Books committees and was a member of the 2009 Printz committee. She has reviewed for Kirkus and School Library Journal. She has a lot of opinions about almost everything, as long as all the things are books. Said opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, LREI, YALSA or any other institutions with which she is affiliated. Find her on Twitter @InfoWitch or e-mail her at karynsilverman at gmail dot com.
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