Monday, March 16, 2015

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

Title: The Walls Around Us
Author: Nova Ren Suma
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Release Date:
March 24th, 2015
Rating:  5/5

Cover Impressions: The style is interesting, and I can appreciate the symbolism more after having read the book, but this cover wasn't quite as interesting as it could have been.  The blurb however, is really well written.  The whole idea of two voices, one of which is in a girls' detention center, was what really grabbed me and it is one of the elements that really makes this novel work. 

The Gist:

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.

Nova Ren Suma tells a supernatural tale of guilt and innocence, and what happens when one is mistaken for the other.

I will admit, I was trepidatious going into this one.  I wasn't a big fan of Imaginary Girls and I thought this author just wasn't for me.  But wow, this one blew me away.  The writing style is really unique, it features a dual narrative that switches between ghost and girl, past and present but also has a strange time overlap.  I was skeptical about how well this would work but, once I got used to it, it really did.  There are actually three real main characters, Amber, a girl convicted of murder but widely believe to be innocent, Ori, a girl convicted of murder and widely believed to be a stone cold killer and Violet, a ballet dancer widely believed to be a massive bitch.  Amber is a very sympathetic character and Violet is decidedly, not.  I applaud the choice of Amber as narrator.  The obvious choice would have been Ori, with Amber as a mildly interesting side character, but I don't think that would have had the impact that Amber did.  Vi is a pretty dispicable character.  She is driven by her desire to be a dancer, at any cost, and seems willing to push aside and stop on anyone who gets in her way.  She is standoffish at best and downright mean at worst. Through both narrators, we get a fascinating view into their sense of guilt and the impact that it does (or doesn't) have on the psyche of a young girl.  

The Walls Around Us holds two big mysteries.  Interestingly enough, we learn the ending of both of them fairly early on.  The rest of the novel is spent discovering the how and why which could have become tedious and boring, but didn't.  I actually spent most of the book enthralled in both plotlines and created various theories as to the motivation behind the events.  Through the story, we also glimpse a fascinating world of institutionalism and the impact that it can have on young people.  I am a big fan of the Netflix show Orange is the New Black and couldn't help drawing parallels between the two. 

The ending did a number on my head.  I have spent the last few hours thinking through the events and trying to get them straight in my head.  I still haven't decided if I like things turning out the way they did or if I would have preferred something a little more cut and dry - but, if it had been, I probably wouldn't still be thinking about it, so there is that.  The magical realism comes to a head and the reader is left trying to decipher what is real and what is a lie.   

Teaching/Parental Notes:

15 and up 
Sex: Oral Sex
Violence: Several murder, Child Abuse
Inappropriate Language: Bitch, Fuck, Slut
Substance Use/Abuse: Underage Drinking, Drug Use

Unanswered Questions: Um, what just happened?


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