The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma


"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.

I love books with unlikeable female characters. I love books where all their cruelty and their flaws and their raw anger are open for the reader to see. I especially love books with female characters that challenge you not to like them, but who you somehow end up feeling for anyway.

The Walls Around Us is a book of these characters. Half-set in a juvenile detention center for girls who have committed serious crimes, half set in the outside world of star ballerina Violet, it's full of angry, uncertain, unstable, painfully vivid characters.

The novel is told through two voices -- the ballerina, Violet, and long-time young convict, Amber. Three years ago, Violet's best friend Orianna was found guilty of murder and locked up upstate, where she became Amber's cellmate. Through Amber's story of three years ago and Violet's story of now, we learn what really happened to Orianna, but, more significantly, we learn who these girls really are. Both characters are unreliable narrators, lying to others, lying to themselves, obscuring details and imagining how they would prefer things to be. Things are left unsaid, dark topics are avoided, and the novel's real focus is getting under all these layers to reveal the truth, or as close to it as we can get.

Nova Ren Suma has an enviable literary voice that is as gorgeous as it is easy to read. Always beautiful, never self-conscious, it pulls you into the story and refuses to let you go until long after you've turned the final page.

Because of the nature of the book, I can't really talk about the plot beyond what I've said, because all of the twists and the drama are internal, and they're revealed slowly, piece by piece. It's a book of creeping dread, not one of monsters leaping out of the dark.

My only issue with the book was the ending, where things went from subtly supernatural to totally supernatural, and the plot wrapped up far too neatly for such a complicated and emotionally messy book. But that doesn't change how beautiful and challenging the rest of the book is, or how its characters and plot line hit me in the gut again and again.

A must read.