Review: 'The Walls Around Us', Nova Ren Suma

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

The Walls Around Us // Nova Ren Suma
• Published March 24th 2015 by Algonquin Books

“Ori’s dead because of what happened out behind the theater, in the tunnel made out of trees. She’s dead because she got sent to that place upstate, locked up with those monsters. And she got sent there because of me.”

The Walls Around Us is a ghostly story of suspense told in two voices—one still living and one long dead. On the outside, there’s Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement. On the inside, within the walls of a girls’ juvenile detention center, there’s Amber, locked up for so long she can’t imagine freedom. Tying these two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls’ darkest mysteries.

We hear Amber’s story and Violet’s, and through them Orianna’s, first from one angle, then from another, until gradually we begin to get the whole picture—which is not necessarily the one that either Amber or Violet wants us to see.

Why did I read this book? The cover is stunning (and extremely fitting, though I didn't know it at the time), there's a dead main character, and the summary suggests unreliable narrators protecting a painful truth. I could have wrapped myself in this book, it looked so perfect.

Well, it delivered. It delivered on every single front.

Many have described this book as Orange Is The New Black Swan (don't ask me whether I agree, I haven't watched either), for the way it interweaves life in a juvenile detention center with the mighty fall of two ballet dancers. We flow from Violet's POV, as she prepares for a life of stage bliss in New York City, to Amber's POV, as she prepares for... eternity spent inside the same four walls. They don't know each other, but they know Orianna, the Bloody Ballerina, the prodigy turned inmate, and through them, we get to know her too.

It'd be hard to get into plot points without spoiling the tremendous fun that it was to just... read along, and uncover tiny slivers of the overall story as I went. The book toes the line between whodunnit and whydunnit, and if at first we're pushed forward by the need to find out, we are soon transported to a place where all we can do is rub our hands and hope for retribution.

The writing style - so lyrical, so beautiful, so flawless - may put some people off, I believe, for the way it jumps from present to past and then to both at once (and perhaps also the future) with no "graphic" indicators to help the reader navigate the timeline. Nevertheless, this fluid concept of time is one of the things that makes The Walls Around Us a book in a million, and it was by far one of my favorite things about it.

The other was Amber's delicious ominous POV. First person plural? Hell yes, we are most amused.

Character-wise, I found most of the characters unlikable, but relatable. I wasn't surprised, for let's be real, I sure wasn't a juvenile delinquent back in the day, but if I met 15-year-old me today I probably wouldn't like her much either. I'd understand her general philosophy of life, though.

And as an afterthought, perhaps I'd tell her to stop keeping journals. Just in case.

NOTE: This book was provided by the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

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