Published by: Algonquin Young Readers
“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.
Nova Ren Suma tells a supernatural tale of guilt and innocence, and what happens when one is mistaken for the other.
The Walls around Us is one of the most beautifully written YA novels that I've read. The first chapter is electric, probably one of the best that I've read in years. Aside from this novel, Imaginary Girls is the only other Nova Ren Suma book that I’ve read, and I liked this better than Imaginary Girls. Maybe it was the grittiness, the actual shocking violence that brought me more into the scene than the reservoir of IG, but reading The Walls around Us made me feel like Nova Ren Suma has a very distinct yet consistent voice and if you liked IG, you will like this. Still both novels are not my last from her. Nova Ren Suma’s novels are unlike any other in YA. They are an experience, and her writing a dream. If you haven’t read something from her, you really should just for the experience.
The characters in this novel are easy to sympathize with, even when you know that they’ve done terrible things. Or have they? This novel balances between innocence and guilt to build its taut web of suspense: what really happened to Ori? What was the experience of the juvenile detention center girls, and were they all really and truly guilty of their accused crimes? What is Vi hiding? So many questions, and ultimately all the answers are tied up with Ori. Although we don’t get her perspective, she is easily the easiest character to root for in this novel because Nova Ren Suma does the impossible, giving Ori a voice through the voice of others as they tell their own stories. And even in the discussion of guilt and culpability, knowing of terrible crimes, I still managed to care about all of the characters in an Orange is the New Black sort of way, especially given how Amber emphasizes the community.
"Orange is the New Black Swan" seems like an accurate descriptor. I've watched a few episodes of Orange is the New Black, haven't read the book yet, but you do get the all female inmate community togetherness and viciousness. Black Swan, I haven't watched but that also seems accurate from what I've heard. This book is bloody ballerinas + girls juvenile detention center + mystery/suspense. Also, girl hate, girl love, girl loyalty - girls, girls, girls. This book is all about the girls and I loved it just for that. It almost feels like a tribute to girls in all our complexity. This is one of the elements that makes this book so unique (and so well couched in magical realism). I’d be happy to read more books with girls at the forefront.
The beautiful writing neatly balances the sharp build-up of suspense and atmosphere. Indeed this book has become one of my favorites for the writing alone, and I know that I’ll not be forgetting this magical realism tale any time soon.