Book Review: The Walls Around Us

Posted January 26, 2015 by Kara in book review / 3 Comments

Book Review: The Walls Around UsThe Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma
Published by Algonquin Young Readers on March 24th, 2015
Genres: contemporary, magical realism, mystery-thriller, young adult
Pages: 332
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
Buy on Amazon

“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.

Very few writers can pull off once what Nova Ren Suma does again and again.  Suma pushes limits.  No, she doesn’t push them – that’s not quite right.  Suma has gone so far past the limits that she can’t even see them anymore.  She breaks new ground with each new release, topping herself, breaking her own record again and again.  Hers is some of my favorite writing.  Her blend of paranormal and magical realism and gritty and ugly characters – that’s the stuff I live for.

The Walls Around Us is a heartbreaking read.  It wasn’t easy, being exposed to the ugly side of these girls, the gross rotting insides, the scar tissue left by guilt and betrayal.  There is so much sadness, so much untapped potential, so much wasted talent where these girls should have been.  The Walls Around Us is a ghost story.  It’s a story about dead girls.  It’s a story set in a detention center for criminal girls, teenage girls who are capable of things we couldn’t imagine.   You could say this story is about Vee and Amber, one on the brink of her dreams coming true and the other locked up since she was just a child.  But really, this story is about Orianna who had everything and then nothing at all in the blink of an eye.  And that’s why this book is so sad – because these girls could have everything and then one decision took it all away.

I don’t know how I felt about any of them.  Suma gave us characters with true depth.  There are no black and white contrasts in these characters.  Everything is a whorl of gray.  Vee was the most complicated of them all, at least for me.  I wanted her to succeed, somehow, after everything I knew about her, I still wanted her to get everything she dreamed of.  But at the same time I found her despicable and cruel and horrifying.  When it was her turn to speak, I couldn’t put the book down.  And she had so many things I love in a “heroine” from her confidence and her arrogance and her matter-of-fact, it-is-what-is way of telling you things.  She doesn’t hesitate and she doesn’t hold back, but she is also so cold and calculating and in control.

The writing in The Walls Around Us is exactly what you can expect from Nova Ren Suma.  It is dreamlike and feverish.  Sometimes it’s vague.  It is always, always gorgeous.  Ever since I read Imaginary Girls she has been the writer I look up to.  I can’t explain it anymore than that, but she’s the author who incites the worst cases of writer-envy.  There’s something about the way she puts pen to paper that pulled me into this story.  I forgot where I was.  I could hear the distant wails of the girls in the penitentiary, I could hear the lilting notes of the Dance of the Firebird.  I would look up from the page and be surprised to find myself still sitting in my living room and not actually transported to Amber’s B-wing cell, or the balcony, watching Vee dance.  The writing swept me up and delivered me to a place only Suma could dream up.

It’s impossible to rank this author’s books, but this one has something special about it that sets it apart from Imaginary Girls and 17 & Gone.  You can tell it was well researched, that these characters were crafted with love and care, that each word, each piece of dialog or warped and twisted thought from Violet’s mind was precisely chosen.  The Walls Around Us will speak to many readers and maybe even make them confront their own inner ugliness.


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