Monday, March 2, 2015

Review: The Walls Around Us - Nova Ren Suma

Release Date: March 24, 2015
Source: Netgalley
Published by: Algonquin Young Readers

The Walls Around Us - Nova Ren Suma | Goodreads

“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.


  1. I read 17 & Gone which wasn't really for me but I can't deny Nova Ren Suma has a way with words! I'm so glad to hear the first chapter was great, you're not the first person to talk about how great the first chapter is which makes me excited :D

    Eep! Bloody ballerinas? Girls juvenile detention center? Mystery/suspense? I AM HERE FOR THIS. Plus all about girls? YES! I can't wait for this to be released so I can finally read it. Great review Christina :)

  2. I really like it. I wasn't in love but I loved how my favorite character was actually the bad guy (even though, I don't think it was supposed to be). That's my favorite part of this book, which made it hard for me in the end. But I loved how I could sympathize with all the characters.

  3. Charlotteeeeeeeeeeee. I need to rectify my commenting/talking with asap. I'm hoping to visit blogs tonight before I leave o.O.

    Charlotte, you should definitely read that first chapter if anything (I guess I didn't link to the excerpt here but it's definitely available elsewhere). If you didn't like her other work but do like her writing, that chapter is so brilliant.

    Yes, I love all the things in this novel and I love how this novel focused on girls! I'm curious about her other work too since some of them also mention missing girls, girls, girls, girls :O.

  4. Now I'm curious about who your favorite character is/was -- because I'm not sure the lines between good & bad are drawn very firm. I mean, I know who I would consider the ultimate "villain" but I don't know that I'd consider her bad o.O.

  5. I remember that we talked about this book and yes, the opening chapter is one of the best beginnings I've read in a long, long time. It was so captivating and it captured the whole essence of the book.

  6. I've never read this author and I'm just not sure about this one. It just sounds so strange, but maybe it would be good for me to read a book that's a little different…sometimes I find myself just reading the same type of books. It's good to get out of your comfort zone, right? Great review! ~Pam

  7. I read imaginary Girls a long time ago right after it first came out, and I was not impressed. I love this cover, and a lot of people have said they've liked it... but I still feel skeptical :/

  8. :D :D we did, on GR! This is why I suppose it might be better for me to wait to post my reviews to GR, for discussion purposes, but oh wells.

    I need to find your review of Walls around Us!

  9. Ooh, Pam, you should definitely give her a shot. I think that Nova Ren Suma is an author like Francesca Lia Block; very distinctive style, and she'll be around for a while. You can try an excerpt of this novel: Maybe that'll give you a feel for the writing style & whether or not to pursue the book?

  10. I liked this better than Imaginary Girls. It felt a little more tangible and was easier to relate to me, but if it was the style you disliked in IG, not sure. Because her voice feels similar. You can try an excerpt to see if that works for you?


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