Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma is a beautifully crafted horror story. This soon to be released novel about vengeful ballerinas will haunt me like the movie Black Swan. It delivers a powerful message about the unfairness of juvenile detention in our current system that discriminates against the disadvantaged. I expect this edgy novel to be on many best young adult books of 2015 lists.

The story is told in two voices. Vee is an 18-year-old ballerina on her way to Julliard. Her future couldn't be brighter, but her dark past is catching up with her. Three years ago something horrific happened at her ballet school. As a result, her best friend, Ori, was sent to a juvenile detention center. All the inmates died of poisoning and nobody alive knows the truth. So why does Vee receive a bouquet of bleeding flowers following her final recital?

At the juvenile center, Amber was imprisoned years ago for the murder of her abusive step father. Everyone outside assumed she was guilty but everyone inside believes quiet, gentle Amber is innocent. She copes by embracing her "life job" as the book cart girl, helping others escape imprisonment by reading. Her world changes when a new girl, Ori, arrives bringing hope. The two narratives intersect on one surreal night, bridging the barriers of time and traditional justice.

The fine writing deserves high praise, but I found the material too gruesome for my personal taste. The violence wasn't gratuitous yet it was still hard to read, especially before bed. The girls engage in psychological and physical warfare for the worst reasons. No one is spared in this cynical story about the miscarriage of justice. Most of the characters were unlikable, but they were well-developed and worthy of consideration. The mysterious plot and the gorgeous prose kept me reading to the satisfying resolution. I was well impressed.

The vivid writing speaks for itself:
"A lot of us did try to run - even if it was only habit. Some of us had been running all our lives. We ran because we could and because we couldn't not. We ran for our lives. We still thought they were worth running for."

"It was the most private thing we had left - held even closer than our bodies, because our bodies were searched, all holes and crevices and cavities in every horrible way that could be imagined. But no one could shake the truth from inside us. They couldn't search us for that."
I'd strongly recommend The Walls Around Us to mature teens and to adults who enjoy horror stories and literary fiction, but I wouldn't give this novel to my thirteen-year-old niece, who is a serious ballerina and a gentle soul. The goal of my reviews is to match each book to the right readers.

Reviewer's Disclosure: I received a free galley from Algonquin in exchange for an honest review. The hardcover book and ebook will be released on March 24th 2015. The shadow photos are of my daughter.

Similar book:  
The Knife and the Butterfly by Ashley Hope Perez


Amanda Summer said...

I read Ren Suma's Imaginary Girls and it was haunting. Black Swan was pretty creepy so I'm not sure this is my cup of tea, although I'm sure the writing is wonderful.

A Cuban In London said...

Just today I was reading an article on a "home" for young offenders. It's serendipity at work, it seems. The novel sounds intriguing enough for someone who gave up on horror long time ago. As for Black Swan, I still don't know what to think of it. :-)

Greetings from London.

Sarah Laurence said...

Amanda, it was good to be pushed outside my comfort zone.

ACIL, I know it sounds odd but I think you'd like this book. Black Swan was far more disturbing. This book did at least end on a ray of hope, probably because it was YA.

troutbirder said...

The subject/setting intrigues me as I spent some time working part time at a juvenile detention center in St. Paul while in college. It was called boys totem town. Appalled at what I saw I switched my career goal from social worker to teacher...

Sarah Laurence said...

troutbirder, the book is more focused on the horror/abuses of juvenile detention than on ballet. If you read it, I'd be fascinated to hear how reality compared. I admire you for dedicating your work life to helping young people.

cynthia newberry martin said...

I'm not a fan of horror stories but the intersecting storylines sound fascinating. And the second excerpt about truth is stunning. The eerie shadow photos seem to match the book perfectly. Did your daughter read this one?

Rose said...

Ballerinas and horror stories seem like a strange combination, but then I've never read "Black Swan," which you mentioned. Not my cup of tea, but I'm sure it would appeal to many teens.

Sarah Laurence said...

Cynthia, I usually avoid horror stories (as does my daughter), but The Walls Around Us was more creepy than scary and the writing was literary in style. My daughter hasn't read this book, but I thought the photos fit this post. We took them to illustrate another dark YA novel about ballet: Jersey Tomatoes are the Best by Maria Padian.

Rose, Black Swan was an award winning movie from 2010. It stars Natalie Portman as an ambitious ballerina who is consumed by the dark role that she dances on stage. I'm guessing that movie might have inspired this book, although the narrative is original.