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The Walls Around Us Hardcover – March 24, 2015
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From School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—This haunting and evocative tale of magical realism immerses readers in two settings that seem worlds apart. The book is told in alternating first-person voices from the perspective of two teenagers: lonely Amber, who at age 13 was convicted of murdering her abusive stepfather and sent to Aurora Hills, a juvenile detention facility, and Vee, an insecure yet ruthlessly ambitious Julliard-bound ballerina. Through Vee's and Amber's recollections, readers learn about talented, kind-hearted Ori, Vee's former best friend and a dancer herself, who after being convicted of a heinous crime is sent to Aurora Hills, where she becomes Amber's roommate—and where soon after a strange tragedy occurs. Though the plotting of this taut, gripping suspense leans heavily on ghosts and murder and will easily attract teens, this is no mere thriller. The prose is mesmerizing, laced with visceral, gorgeous figurative language, and draws subtle parallels between the disciplined, constricting world of ballet and the literal prison in which Amber and Ori find themselves. Believable and well developed, Vee and Amber have strong, unforgettable voices that ring true. Suma's unflinchingly honest depiction of the potentially destructive force of female friendship and skillful blending of gritty realism with supernatural elements is reminiscent of Laurie Halse Anderson's Wintergirls (Viking, 2009), and the eerie mood she evokes is unnervingly potent. VERDICT A powerful story that will linger with readers.—Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal
"With evocative language, a shifting timeline and more than one unreliable narrator, Suma subtly explores the balance of power between the talented and the mediocre, the rich and the poor, the brave and the cowardly… To reveal more would be to uncover the bloody heart that beats beneath the floorboards of this urban-legend-tinged tale." —The New York Times
"The Walls Around Us passionately testifies to the ways in which girls are walled up, held down, fenced in. It's a gorgeously written, spellbinding ghost story. . . Nova Ren Suma's prose hums with such power and fury that when the explosions do happen, they seem unavoidable." —Chicago Tribune
"Unputdownable . . . the well-paced plot reveals guilt, innocence, and dark truths that will not stay hidden." —The Boston Globe
"Mixing mystery and supernatural elements, this book is ridden with lyrical prose and will keep you guessing the truth right up until the very end." —Bustle.com
"Intense and haunting . . . This story is told in line after line of beautifully crafted prose that sear themselves into the reader's mind. Revelations seep out in an almost abstract way that sneaks up on you, then suddenly the truth is out and knocking you sideways. A stunning, unforgettable, and ghostly tale from start to finish." —San Francisco Book Review
"Suma excels in creating surreal, unsettling stories with vivid language, and this psychological thriller is no exception. Along the way, Suma also makes a powerful statement about the ease with which guilt can be assumed and innocence awarded, not only in the criminal justice system, but in our hearts—in the stories we tell ourselves. A fabulous, frightening read." —Booklist, starred review
"The wholly realistic view of adolescents meeting the criminal justice system is touched at first with the slimmest twist of an otherworldly creepiness, escalating finally to the truly hair-raising and macabre. Eerie, painful and beautifully spine-chilling." —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"This haunting and evocative tale of magical realism immerses readers in two settings that seem worlds apart . . . Suma’s unflinchingly honest depiction of the potentially destructive force of female friendship and skillful blending of gritty realism with supernatural elements is reminiscent of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls, and the eerie mood she evokes is unnervingly potent." —School Library Journal, starred review
"In lyrical, authoritative prose, Suma weaves the disparate lives of [the] three girls into a single, spellbinding narrative that explores guilt, privilege, and complicity with fearless acuity. . . The twisting, ghostly tale of Ori’s life, death, and redemption is unsettling and entirely engrossing." —The Horn Book Magazine, starred review
"Gratifyingly disturbing . . . Suma craftily sets the two stories against one another, moving between Violet’s fiercely grounded account and Amber’s hauntingly destabilized one, enticing readers to figure out how the pieces go together." —Bulletin for the Center for Children’s Books, starred review
"Powerful . . . The compelling narrative, written in scintillating prose and featuring incredibly real characters, brings the two stories together in an explosive finale with a supernatural twist that results in a satisfying resolution." —VOYA, starred review
"Gripping. . . Just try to put this down." —Shelf Awareness for Readers, starred review
"A suspenseful tour de force, a ghost story of the best sort, the kind that creeps into your soul and haunts you." —Libba Bray, author of The Diviners and A Great and Terrible Beauty
"Fearlessly imagined and deliciously sinister, The Walls Around Us is hypnotic, luring the reader deeper and deeper into its original, shocking narrative." —Michelle Hodkin, The Mara Dyer Trilogy
"Written in luscious and deliciously creepy prose not easy to forget…This is a story about guilt and innocence, about secrets and how deep we let people into those places within us, and it’s a story about how the past can define our present, even if we try desperately to keep that past under wraps. Put it on your radars now; this is an outstanding literary young adult novel more than worth the wait." —Book Riot
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A few years ago now, I read and fell in love with Nova Ren Suma’s <i>Imaginary Girls</i>, an emotionally complicated sister-centered story with a touch of creepy and unsettling magical realism. It’s a story that still haunts me, sneaking from behind the shadows into the foreground of my mind. A book that I treasure in my soul and a level of achievement that I aspire to in my own writing.
Nova Ren’s latest novel, <i>The Walls Around Us</i>, has the same kind of haunting quality, and not just because it’s a ghost story. It’s a tale that lingers long after you’ve put it down.
Three girls are the center of this story — Amber is a young woman convicted of murder who has been locked in prison for years; Violet, a ballet dancer with a dark secret; and Orianna, a girl caught in a tide of misfortune who binds the other two together. Their stories weave together unveiling lies and secrets and the truth behind a murder.
Alternating between Amber and Violet’s points of view, the story unfolds with a feeling of inevitability, a sense that everything has happened before and cannot be stopped from happening again. Neither girl is nice or easy; instead they are both complicated and difficult, having made dangerous decisions that lead to catastrophes that define their lives. Where Nova Ren’s skill is clear is in how she manages to generate a feeling of fascination and sympathy for both of these girls. Violet in particular is an awful human being, and yet I found myself pitying her and how she has cut herself off from feeling for anyone else in the world and a part of me wanted her to make it to Julliard despite all the things she’s done.
Amber is particularly interesting to me in the way she erases herself into the group of her fellow prisoners, rarely using the singular “I” and more often using the plural “we”, as though their stories and her own story were the same, as though they are all one body of girls moving through the prison system. Her own personal story slowly unfolds but never quite condemns or absolves her of any crime. She is both guilty and a victim of society and circumstances, screwed over by the man her mother married and the system. A girl taken for granted, as many in the prison are.
Rich, gorgeous prose brings the world inside this prison for young women and the outside world (for this books seems to divide the world into two realms – inside and outside) to vivid, brutal reality. The supernatural aspects of this tale are subtle, weaved in among grounded real-world details enabling a level of plausibility. The effect — of not just the supernatural elements, but the entire story — is unsettling in all the right ways. Although the end is satisfying, this is a novel without easy answers, one to ponder after finishing, and then to go back and reread and ponder some more.
In one week. Violet will head to Juilliard to study ballet. Before she leaves, she wants to visit Aurora Hills Juvenile Detention Center, the site where her best friend Ori died after being convicted of killing two fellow dancers. Amber, jailed for killing her stepfather, recounts her life in lockup. Vee and Amber are connected through Ori.
THE WALLS AROUND US is a confusing, compelling, almost poetic novel about the meanings of innocence and guilt, what can be proven, what we acknowledge, what we deny and the lies we tell ourselves and others where truth and lies are Yin and Yang. Nova Suma has created a beautiful story with three very distinct main characters. Although Violet is selfish and sometimes unkind, I felt empathy for her, always in Ori's shadow. Amber, the other narrator, is rougher around the edges and more sympathetic. We see Ori through their eyes and she's less developed than the others. For much of the book, I wondered if what I thought was happening plot wise was occurring, or if I was just confused. Normally, I would hate this and give up on the book, but Suma kept my eyes focused on my kindle. THE WALLS AROUND US didn't quite pull me in enough to keep me up all night reading, but I couldn't wait to start the next morning and I read straight through until the end. I normally don't read ghost stories, I prefer realistic fiction, so this review is high praise from me.
I hated the ending of the book. The first 95% was so creative and unique, I thought the ending felt contrived and unoriginal.
If you're looking for something different and exquisitely written, you'll enjoy THE WALLS AROUND US.
This book was lyrical and confusing and a good read. I am not sure where I learned about this book. The story centers around the murder of two fifteen-year-olds. The book switches points of view between two people: 1) Violet, an 18 year old ballet dancer; and 2) Amber, a prisoner in Aurora Hills juvenile detention center. Both points of view discuss among other things, a girl named Orianna.
The book is confusing because the plot does not follow a straight timeline and the two girls’ perspectives also contradict each other. I had no real idea of what the premise of the book was and so for most of my read I was trying to figure out what the point was. I mean, I had figured out who dunnit pretty early on. But why we were in the heads of these two particular characters was a little more difficult.
That said, I found Amber’s story of juvi prison life and her own reasons for being in there to be extremely interesting. Her perspective gives us a look at life inside the center. I loved everything around the center’s library. Her viewpoint of the other girls at the center is fascinating. The other girls at the center seemed both unique and real. It is quite a complex little microcosm.
Violet’s sections seem to be about the relationship that she and Ori had and what that meant to her. While she was not a nice person, her voice was engaging. Having worked with ballerinas before, the dance portion of this book felt very real if overdramatized for the purposes of the novel.
This book was not a quick read for me. I had a hard time convincing myself to go forward because of the structuring of the narrative. But the voice of Amber in particular kept drawing me back in. The writing was beautiful in many ways. I wanted to know how everything would tie together. When I eventually got to the ending, it surprised me. I am not sure if I liked it. I am not sure that I didn’t. I am however glad that I finished it. I can’t guarantee that everyone will like this novel. But if you read it, I would love to hear your take on it . . .
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