I received this book for free from Goodreads First Reads in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma
Published by Algonquin Books on March 22nd 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Law & Crime, Mysteries & Detective Stories, Paranormal
Source: Goodreads First Reads
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Ballet drama + juvenile detention center + dark, fairytale-like atmosphere. That’s all I needed to know to make me want to read this young adult novel full of secrets and betrayal! Beautifully written mystery with supernatural elements. It went a little off the deep end in the last fifteen pages, but it was worth the read for the exploration into the invisible walls that divide us.
“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.” Eighteen-year-old Violet is a self-absorbed, ambitious ballet dancer, who is about to attend Julliard. Violet and Orianna have been best friends since childhood, but Violet can barely contain her resentment towards Ori. Violet has had every advantage in life and is a good dancer, but she lacks the ‘spark’ and natural talent of Ori, who is not as privileged. Ori has been sent to a juvenile detention center for committing a violent crime and Violet is oddly unaffected by it.
Home is where the heart is, and where the hell is, and where the hate is, and where the hopelessness is. Which made Aurora Hills pretty much like home.
Amber is an inmate at Aurora Hills juvenile detention center, home of “forty-one of the worst female juvenile offenders in the state.” She was convicted of a violent crime when she was 13 years old, but everyone thinks she is the only true innocent there. She has become institutionalized and she speaks in the collective voice of the detention center. In the opening of the book, all of the doors at the detention center have become unlocked and all the guards have disappeared.
When people decide there’s ugliness inside you, they’ll be looking to find it on your face.
Orianna is described as selfless to a fault and an extremely talented ballet dancer. She is maybe a little too perfect! We only get to know Orianna through Violet and Amber, but she is central to the story.
People can’t move on until the finger is pointed, and the gavel’s come down. This is called closure, and it’s also called justice, and they are not always the same thing.
I really enjoyed the mystery and the creepy atmosphere. Nova Ren Suma’s prose is poetic and very lovely to read. It has a dreamy, fairytale quality to it, a similar atmosphere to We Were Liars and Wink Poppy Midnight. The Firebird, a ballet based on a Russian fairy tale, is alluded too frequently and it was weaved into the story effectively. The characters were hard for me to connect with because they felt like author constructions developed to encapsulate a message, rather than fully developed people. I tend to have this connection issue with artistically written first-person perspective, especially with multiple points-of-view. When all the characters communicate in a writerly way full of literary devices, it is hard for me to immerse myself in the story.
I knew that just because people on the outside were free and clean, it didn’t mean they were the good ones. They were the worst kind of liars. They were total assholes. They were traitors. They were bitches. They were snitches. They were cowards. They claimed they had your best interests at heart, but really they were in it for themselves. They said what they wanted about us. They threw us under buses, and then they walk away. Not everything said about us by those on the outside was the truth, not even close.
My favorite part of this novel was the exploration into the divisions that separate people. Besides the physical barriers between innocent and guilty and life and death, there are also the self-created prisons of the main characters. Both Violet and Amber are very protective of their secrets and do not let people close. There are also the invisible walls that separate Violet and Ori, issues of privilege and talent. Outside appearance can also serve as a deceiving “wall” that prevents a person’s true character from being revealed. It is easy to refuse to acknowledge these walls, but they are always there.
Not one of us was truly innocent, not when we were made to stand in the light, our bits and cavities and cavity fillings exposed. When we faced this truth inside ourselves, it somehow felt more ugly than the day we witnessed the judge say “guilty” and heard the coatroom cheer.
Reading this story was an uneven experience for me, but I am glad I read it! The beginning was slow, like there was a lot of filler for the sake of dragging out the mystery. I also dreaded Violet’s chapters, because she was a boring, empty shell of a person. She is one of those characters that vaguely alludes to a secret until she suddenly decides to reveal the answers at the end. She doesn’t do much and she is exhaustingly repetitive about her ambitions and resentments. Amber’s chapters were by far the most compelling. Her life as an inmate and the relationships between the young women were so interesting. It was like Orange is the New Black: The Juvie Edition with a weird, dreamy feel, and I was hooked during the middle. But that end! The last fifteen pages were insane. It is one of those endings that comes completely out of left field and I have a hard time accepting it because I suddenly didn’t understand the rules of this world.
Maybe, long ago, we all used to be good. maybe all little girls are good in the beginning. … But something happened to us between then and now. Something threw sand in our eyes, ground it in, and we couldn’t get it out. We still can’t.
Overall, I enjoyed this book and I would read more by this author, even if they all have crazy endings! The two books I thought of while reading this book are very different in regards to genre, but are similar in theme: The Library of Mount Char (dangers of letting your pain consume you and human adaptability) and Unfair (a nonfiction book about injustice in the United States justice system).
Semi-related: Ballerina Misty Copeland to ‘Inspire the Next Generation’ With Her Own Barbie Doll (5/22/16)- Firebird costume! I get irrationally excited when I spot connections (no matter how tenuous) to my reading in the news!