The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma (2015)
YA Fiction | Paranormal Mystery | Psychological Thriller
“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.”
pooled ink Review:
In our heads we will give her a standing ovation…How proud of her, how thrilled for her, how envious we’ll be. We’ll clap our hands for her. We’ll stand in our seats. We’ll shout, we’ll wolf whistle, we’ll scream. We’ll make thunder for her. We’ll make thunder for ourselves. -Amber
This book. This book. This book was fantastic.
For a good portion of the beginning you are introduced to characters, ways of life, circumstances, stories, times, etc. and you find yourself both utterly captivated and rather confused (in a good way). With every page you read you gather more and more bits of information but it’s like receiving random handfuls of puzzle pieces at a time. Halfway through you’ve certainly already begun to start putting the pieces together and forming theories, guesses, and suspicions. And as the book races towards the end finally unveiling the truth of that fateful day you cringe at the truth, you sigh at the answer, and you screech in a desire for vengeance.
It’s quite easy to guess what happened honestly but that’s not the point. The story takes you on such a riveting, thrilling, blood-chilling journey that arriving to the solved puzzle only makes your fears darken. As much as you want to puff out your chest and guess correctly, when the picture is put together and you are presented with the cold truth you can’t summon enough energy to gloat but rather find yourself too distracted by your disgust.
Perhaps I shouldn’t, but I like how she’s not sorry. I like how that was such an honest part of her character. She should feel sorry, we’d like to think she’s sorry. But truth be told, admitted by herself and known by those she betrayed, she is not sorry. In fact she might even be glad. We’d like to simplify life and think that bad comes to all those who do wrong but in this case her life was improved. And she will not feel sorry for being happy. Whether she knew it or not she had her own walls to break down.
More than that as Orianna and Violet’s secret is slowly exposed there remains Amber’s secret to unravel. At first I was curious as to why this book is told between the alternating POVs of Violet and Amber. Violet I understood, but Amber? As the book goes on, however, you begin to realize just how important quiet book-wheeling Amber is, will be, and forever was. What perhaps begins as a clear-cut mystery quickly becomes distorted, haunted, and full of psychological prods. Many fates are intertwined in this story but it is not until the conclusion that one finally understands. The plot plays with the reader up to the very last page delivering a sharp twist. Sometimes the system doesn’t work. Sometimes it’s only the guilty who can cast judgment because who can recognize guilt better than those wallowing in it themselves?
It’s so fascinating and so true to realize how quick people are to judge, to profile, to assume. Someone who looks cleaner, more put together, has two caring parents, has a good lawyer. Now why would that lovely good citizen ever do wrong? But the person who has one intermittent parent, has little money, dresses funny, lives in a bad neighborhood. Well now obviously they must have done it. It was only a matter of time given their background. Why do we think these things? Perhaps it is because they are commonly true? Perhaps. And many of the inmates in this book would actually agree. But that does not give us the right to assume. We see things as we want to see them. Humans like to understand. They don’t like mystery and the unexplainable. They search for the most logical answer they can find and clasp it tightly refusing to admit they could be wrong, refusing to let outliers cast any doubt, refusing to dwell on the unfortunate. No. A solution is quickly found and then the world moves on never caring to look back or doubt their selves.
We are like vultures, the media doubly so, when it comes to tragedy. We flock to the scene and pick at the carcasses until there is nothing left to be told. We devour the crime and in our selfish relentless curiosity and self-righteousness we contaminate the scene, the evidence, the truth. By the time the ogling crowd has dispersed, the media have made their money, all that is left are broken souls and a secret that may never fully be realized no matter how loud they cry. We look on, toss a coin of pity their way, and walk past. We may try to sympathize or even empathize but deep down, if we’re brutally honest, a little voice inside ourselves cries “But at least it wasn’t me.”
“Word of a tragedy travels. People delight in demise.” -Amber
In a way the ending delivers a small flicker of hope. The entire books exposes the corrupt ugliness in this world and it feels so heavy, so smothering, so permanent that just at the last second Nova Ren Suma gives us a twist of fate to cling on to.
Everything about this book was brilliant. The characters, the world building, the raw emotions both of anger and cold honesty, it all is delivered in addictive prose at a pace that both plods along cruelly and races forwards blindingly. The plot is told between two alternating POVs: Amber, an inmate at Aurora Hills Secure Juvenile Detention Center three years ago, and Violet, a ballerina headed for Julliard in present day. Two seemingly unrelated characters eventually connected by Orianna, an ex-ballerina and cold-blooded murderer. This was such a smart decision. It added to the mystery, the intrigue, the collision of fate. Like I said, at first you feel a bit confused because who is this Amber? Who is this Violet? And why are we reading two separate stories? But then in no time the penny drops and we shudder as our worst assumptions come to judgment in the light.
The Walls Around Us is a chilling story that pries open the pretty faces masking the rotting stench of guilt, stares in awe at the true meaning of loyalty, and nods its head stoically at the justice system. It explores the burden of innocence, the benefits of guilt, and the importance of knowing where you belong. Sometimes life isn’t fair and justice goes un-served, but didn’t anyone tell you? It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and nothing can save you, not even yourself. Chilling, exhilarating, twisted, and beautiful, The Walls Around Us is utterly engrossing.
P.S. If you like Darren Aronofsky’s 2010 film Black Swan, Christopher Nolan’s 2000 film Memento or even Nolan’s 2010 film Inception then you’ll probably get really into this book too (& vice versa).
Purchase here: The Walls Around Us
Similar Recommended Reads: Pretty Wicked by Kelly Charron, Beware That Girl by Teresa Toten
Meet Nova Ren Suma!
Nova Ren Suma is the author of the YA novels THE WALLS AROUND US as well as the YA novels IMAGINARY GIRLS and 17 & GONE, which were both named 2014 Outstanding Books for the College Bound by YALSA. Her middle-grade novel, DANI NOIR, was reissued for a YA audience under the title FADE OUT. She has a BA in writing & photography from Antioch College and an MFA in fiction from Columbia University and has been awarded fiction fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, the Millay Colony, and an NEA fellowship for a residency at the Hambidge Center. She worked for years behind the scenes in publishing, at places such as HarperCollins, Penguin, Marvel Comics, and RAW Books, and now she teaches writing workshops. She is from various small towns across the Hudson Valley and lives and writes in New York City.
3 thoughts on “The Walls Around Us”
Outstanding review, Angela! One of my favorite things about The Walls Around Us was the youth detention center setting–a microcosm of humanity and intensified wants and emotions, almost along the lines of Lord of the Flies, but with prison guards. It was pretty genius how Suma contrasted prison with the cutthroat world of ballet, and she’s a master of creating a surreal atmosphere. What a writer. She had me believing every bit of this strange, unsettling, thrilling story.
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Thank you! And I completely agree with you. It was a brilliant and interesting comparison. Unexpected by most but totally perfect. The contrast between the detention center and the stage was only surface level while the similarities formed a much longer list, and the haunted and paranormal flavor heightened the book’s raw energy even more. I really want to look into her other books!
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The only other Suma (Ren Suma?) book I’ve read was 17 and Gone, and I’m sorry to say the plot was disappointing. I think next time I’ll try Dani Noir.
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