Date of Publication: March 24 2015
“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.”
The Walls Around Us is a ghostly story of suspense told in two voices—one still living and one long dead. 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 a girls’ juvenile detention center, there’s Amber, locked up for so long she can’t imagine freedom. Tying these two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls’ darkest mysteries.
We hear Amber’s story and Violet’s, and through them Orianna’s, first from one angle, then from another, until gradually we begin to get the whole picture—which is not necessarily the one that either Amber or Violet wants us to see.
Nova Ren Suma tells a supernatural tale of guilt and innocence, and what happens when one is mistaken for the other.
Nova Ren Suma and I have a complex relationship. I have read most of her books (this being the third), which is quite the shock because if you read my reviews for Imaginary Girls and 17 & Gone, it would be clear that the books never entirely worked for me. Make no mistake, I enjoyed them, but it was not until this one, The Walls Around Us, that I fully loved Suma's work. And maybe it's because the stories are mature and I'm finally at a point where I can appreciate them, and it's also probably because The Walls Around Us is what I believe to be her best work yet.
I notice a trend in Suma's writing: she writes about odd girls. Imperfect girls that have done something horrible or something horrible has been done to. In all her works she weaves innocence and horror together so that the lines between right and wrong blur. I thought she was always too vague in her endings, and The Walls Around Us is a story that is more digestible than Imaginary Girls or 17 & Gone because the reader is not as lost.
The story begins with Violet, a ballerina that readily admits has something horrible inside of her. Violet is a twisted character that is surprisingly humanized. I'm a little frightened to admit it but I have felt jealous like Violet when I see someone effortlessly brilliant, and it's not hard to see where Violet is coming from and how she is pushed over the limit. Even with this ability to understand Violet, there is a cold cruelty to her character that is perfectly written. It's also quite fascinating to be in Violet's head as she contemplates her choices.
Orianna is a beautiful character and her story is heartbreaking. There was one passage near the end that forced me to stop reading because it was so heart-wrenching and sad. Orianna is the type of person I want to be and I adore her. And not just in a, "what a great character!" sort of way. I'm rooting for Orianna just as hard as the other girls in the story.
Amber is perhaps the most complex of the characters. Her storyline has the most ambiguity, and for Amber, there was also one moment that made me have to stop reading: when she mentioned her ten year old sister. Amber is put in an extremely tough situation and although I can't ever condone her choices, I can't help but think that Amber was dealt a tough hand. She is ultimately the link in the story and her story is interesting because it is not directly linked to Violet and Orianna, but it is still greatly important.
Obviously, the characterization was top notch. The plot also deserves acclaim because it is extremely creative and wraps up perfectly. I never expected the ending with all its twists, even though I probably should have, and when I finished I'm not sure a sigh of contentment would have been out of place. This was a really good book.
Nova Ren Suma has always had beautiful, atmospheric writing that has the ability to draw tears from her readers but The Walls Around Us is her best book because finally, I was able to relate to her characters and it had a plot, even if it was not told linearly, that didn't confuse me with a visible end point. The themes, innocence and guilt, were extremely sharp and focused, and there are several phenomenal passages that stuck with me.
Even so, the story is haunting and gorgeous and insert other platitude for poetic writing. There is this glorious sense of fate in a Nova Ren Suma book and the story is always a mystery until the somewhat vague ending. Think Maggie Stiefvater but more ambiguous structurally, which makes me think Suma's possibly even more poetic. The Walls Around Us was less vague (although I did read the last thirty pages twice, which is really a testament to Nova Ren Suma because I rarely read anything twice) and it was engrossing and enjoyable to read the whole time.
This review has been coloured a lot by my thoughts on Suma's previous two books, and obviously it's a matter of personal preference to think this story was outstanding. But that's because Nova Ren Suma has always stood out as someone with extremely cool ideas and writing that never managed to pull it all off for me when it came to the plot. The Walls Around Us finally does that, and it is spectacular. I never really fully got a Nova Ren Suma book until this one. This is the Nova Ren Suma book I have always wanted, and my favourite part is that every time I read a Nova Ren Suma book, it is better than the previous one. I don't know how it gets better than this, but I have full faith that her next book is going to slay.