Book Review: The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

Posted March 16, 2015 by Stormy in Books / 8 Comments

The Walls Around Us

 by Nova Ren Suma

The Walls Around Us

 Expected Publication Date: March 24, 2015
Length: 336 pages
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers

Obtained Via: Advanced Reader’s copy given by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for review consideration. This in no way affected my final opinion of this book.
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“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.

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Some girls make enemies out of other girls, and you don’t even know why.

We’ve had Mean Girls. Gone Girl. Courtney Summer’s books. By now, the idea that girls are full of “sugar and spice and everything nice” has been thoroughly shot and buried, but perhaps nothing quite gets to the complexity of teenage girls like The Walls Around Us does. Girls can be vicious. Girls can be cruel. Girls can also be kind. This is, at heart, a book about girls. So-called “good girls” and “bad girls” and the lines that blur them.

The Walls Around Us is about:

  • Two mysteries
  • Girls
  • Ballet
  • The blurred lines of justice
  • Relationships–and I don’t mean romantic ones. I mean the friendships, the substitute relationships, and what people hold on to.
  • Guilt
  • What drives people to do terrible things
  • The things that haunt us

It would be impossible to fully unpack this novel, so here’s what you need to know: The Walls Around Us is told in split POV between Amber and Violet. Amber is a girl in the juvenile correctional facility. She has been in the facility for years and everything the reader sees in the facility is through her eyes. Violet is a ballerina set to take center stage, but something from her past is haunting her–her once best friend, Ori, who was sent to the correctional facility.

We were alive. I remember it that way. We were still alive, and we couldn’t make heads or tails of the darkness, so we couldn’t see how close we were to the end.

This is the type of book you read with a highlighter in hand, if you’re the type to mark your books. The writing is as magical as the supernatural events taking place within the book. It always feels light and flowing, even when the subject matter is dark and dreadful. The writing is as gorgeous when describing the day-to-day life at the correctional facility as it is when making a ballet come to life, and the contrast between the two is stunning. Who would have thought these two places, these two characters, would contrast so well?

The Walls Around Us is the kind of book that immediately sets its tone and then unravels the story to the raw core. From the very beginning, the narrator makes it clear that something terrible happened to the 42 girls in the detention facility. It’s also clear from Violet’s narration that something terrible happened in her past, and that’s why Ori was in the facility in the first place. These two mysteries run side by side–what happened to girls? and what happened to Violet and Ori? are the more plot-driven questions of the novel. The real question that drives the story forward, however, is the question of guilt and innocent and who you can trust.

Much like the characters in this novel are haunted, I know The Walls Around Us will haunt my memory for a long time in all it’s nuance and complexity. This is a book that you wolf down in one sitting, but then dwell on for days, going back to the story in your head over and over again. The Walls Around Us is not a book easily forgotten.

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The Walls Around Us is the first book I’ve read by Nova Ren Suma, but it will not be my last. The plot, characters, and writing were all effortlessly magical, enchanting in a haunting way. The story of Amber, Violet, and Ori will stay with me for a long time.  5/5 cupcakes.

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5 Stars

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8 responses to “Book Review: The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

  1. Anonymous

    Still can’t see my comment or your reply. Ugh.

    Anyway, my library has other Nova Ren Suma books, so I imagine they’ll order The Walls Around Us at some point. They just tend to be super slow, and sometimes I end up getting a book through ILL faster than from my home library. It happened with Blue Lily, Lily Blue, which is why I broke my book buying ban and pre-ordered The Raven King. I’m not waiting 2-3 months for that one!

  2. Maraia

    I’m been looking forward to this book since your rating of it came up on my Goodreads page. I recommended it to my library, but I have yet to hear a response about ANY of my requests, so I won’t hold my breath. I’ll probably have to wait until it’s available through ILL, but it sounds as though it’s worth it!

    • Stormy

      Oh, that kinda surprises me–I feel like Nova Ren Suma is a fairly established YA author. Not one of the “big” names, but recognized enough that her books would be ordered for most library systems of decent size upon release. It’s so totally worth getting through ILL though! It was such a beautiful & bizarre book! I plan on re-reading when my pre-order comes in.

  3. I really loved this one. The ending was so crazy and confusing that I really had to think about it a while before I decided whether I liked it or not. Ha.

    • Stormy

      DEFINITELY. At first I kinda felt. . . I guess “surprised” by the ending. Not so much in a “this is a crazy twist ending!” way, but just in a way where I really had to chew on it. It’s stayed in my head since reading for sure.

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