ARC review: The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: AmazonGoodreads
Publication Date: March 24, 2015
Source: ARC via Netgalley

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 the Aurora Hills juvenile detention center, there’s Amber, locked up for so long she can’t imagine freedom.

Tying their two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls’ darkest mysteries…

What really happened on the night Orianna stepped between Violet and her tormentors? What really happened on two strange nights at Aurora Hills? Will Amber and Violet and Orianna ever get the justice they deserve—in this life or in another one?

In prose that sings from line to line, Nova Ren Suma tells a supernatural tale of guilt and of innocence, and of what happens when one is mistaken for the other.

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.

Violet is an impulsive, self-involved ballet dancer who’s prone to bad decisions. Her best friend allegedly killed two girls, but Violet’s wealthy, well-connected family made sure that her name wasn’t connected to the crime. Violet seems lost now – she has more enemies than friends, and she doesn’t seem to particularly care for any of the friends that she has. None of that matters, though, because she’s headed off to Juilliard in a few weeks, where she’ll train with the best ballet dancers in the country. A position she never would have been in if Ori was still around.

Amber was sent away to Aurora Hills three years ago, after being tried and convicted for the murder of her stepfather. She’s learned to keep her temper in check most of the time, but occasionally she’ll still explode, under the right circumstances. Above all else, Amber loves books, especially her job in the facility’s library. And it’s through Amber that the magical realism of the book really begins – one night, the doors to Aurora Hills magically unlock, and the guards are all otherwise occupied. In the chaos that surrounds the facility, Amber bumps into someone who doesn’t belong. That someone is Violet, but how did she get there, and who let her in?

Through Violet and Amber’s narration, we meet Orianna, a seemingly perfect ballerina who doesn’t fit the stereotype of a young offender. Ori is cool, calm, and collected. Nothing ruffles her feathers, she gets along with everyone, and she works to find the good in everything, even her time at Aurora Hills. As the most talented dancer her town had ever seen, Ori was going places… until the night that she allegedly mudered two of her classmates – brutally – outside of the ballet studio. Ori doesn’t seem guilty, but she doesn’t claim to be innocent, either. The question on everyone’s mind is how could someone as perfect as Ori be capable of doing those awful things?

The answer lies in the narration. We know that Violet in particular is an extremely unreliable narrator. In fact, she herself seems confused about what happened – or didn’t happen – on the night in question. Or maybe she’s not confused. Maybe she’s deluding herself, and the reader, into thinking she doesn’t remember.

Because it’s clear from the beginning that Ori was a much better friend to Violet than Violet was to Ori, and Violet has always been jealous of Ori’s natural talent. She describes Ori having to hold herself back so that the two of them could stay in the same class. She’s envious the loving relationship Ori had with her boyfriend. She doesn’t understand why the other girls in their ballet class would make fun of her, but not Ori. Everybody liked Ori. Ori got away with everything.

Amber isn’t much better as a narrator. While we saw the bitterness surrounding Violet’s feelings toward Ori, we see the complete opposite with Amber. To Amber, Ori is almost an angel. She’s perfect, solving problems and making people feel better. Always doing the perfect thing at the most perfect time. Behaving exactly as she should. Excelling at everything she does. It almost seems that Ori could literally murder someone in front of Amber, and Amber would still think the world of her.

One of the best things about this book is that it never really becomes clear. We never know if Ori is as perfect as Amber makes her out to be. Even the ending is unclear – I finished this book days ago and I still don’t know what to make of it. But one thing is for sure: The Walls Around Us is definitely worth your time. The book is incredibly well-written, with an almost perfect, effortless flow. The narration is mysterious, with a sometimes creepy vibe. The only qualm I had with this book is that the girls all have the same voice, which makes the switch between narrators a little confusing. This is, however, very minor, and doesn’t detract from the story.

In the end, I highly recommend the Walls Around Us to anyone who enjoys ghost stories, magical realism, and/or young adult fantasy.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the free copy!

For my 2015 reading challenge, I’m checking off #4: a book published this year.

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