Monday, January 18, 2016

The Walls Around Us

The Walls Around Us
Nova Ren Suma
Algonquin, 2015  319 pgs
Grades 9-Up

Two narrators tell seemingly separate stories, eventually linked by a mutual friend and a seemingly supernatural experience. Amber is an inmate in a juvenile detection center for girls. Her narrative begins with a pivotal night when the facility loses power, the girls are surprisingly freed, and Amber encounters what appears to be a ghost. Violet is a gifted ballet dancer set to give her final performance before leaving home for Julliard. She is about to realize her greatest dreams, except they are tarnished by the memory of her former best friend who was convicted of murdering two fellow ballerinas three years earlier. What really happened that fateful day of the murder? What crime did Amber commit? Who is the ghostly girl Amber encounters and how are she and Violet connected. Suma slowly reveals answers as the story continues, building up to a huge crescendo by book's end and a final payoff. All the characters come together at the ending of the story, which ends with an unexpected and satisfying twist.

The Walls Around Us is a highly unusual and fresh novel for teenagers. The world's of both ballet and prison are drawn with all of their competitiveness, misery, and warts exposed. Suma shows the dark side of ballet; the warped feet, competition and nastiness between the dancers, and the need for a dancer to claw her way to the top. Violet is a fully draw, yet highly sarky and unlikable character. Amber, also fully realized, is also complex and not so nice. The most likable character of the story and the common denominator between the two narrators is Ori; Violet's former best friend and Amber's new cellmate. The story is mostly realistic. The fantasy is more supernatural in nature and is gentle and believable. This book is not a typical mystery, but so much of the plot is unclear and then slowly revealed that I think it could be classified as one. Many unknowns can be guessed at, but the surprise at the end really was a surprise for me and was very cool. The story ends happy-ish, yet not cheaply so and is fully satisfying. I usually hate endings of books, but loved the ending to this one. Girls are the natural audience for this book, but boys would like it if they gave it a chance. At best teens will find a hard-to-put-down suspenseful page turner. At worse they will be scared straight from doing anything to land them in juvie.

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