March 26, 2015

Thursday Review: THE WALLS AROUND US by Nova Ren Suma

Summary: Happy book birthday—two days ago—to Nova Ren Suma's latest YA offering, The Walls Around Us! This title shares a lot with Imaginary Girls, most noticeably the atmosphere of strangeness and the slow unfolding of past and present events; the unreliable narrators and their limited viewpoints which only let slip a little at a time of what really happened.

Our two narrators here are Violet and Amber. Violet is a talented dancer who shines onstage, but whose heart hides the pain of her best friend Orianna's imprisonment for a horrifying crime. Amber, locked in a girls' detention center, lives and relives day after monotonous day behind those walls, until someone new arrives and a shocking occurrence changes everything.

Peaks: One of the most wonderfully page-turning aspects of this book is the author's ability to slowly release tantalizing details, from each narrator's viewpoint, that subtly weave together in the reader's mind as the story progresses, until we gradually realize this tale has already been set in stone, the ending inevitable. This also means I can't say much without spoilers, but I will say that there is so much to this book—it's so deceptively simple on the surface but hides a myriad of delicate layers. The writing is literary and yet not self-conscious, focusing us on the characters and the mystery unfolding both inside and outside their minds.

Forming a backdrop to the mystery is the sort of train-wreck-fascinating world of ballet and the single-minded competitiveness and even viciousness that seems to pervade that environment, as well as the class implications of who each character is—Violet, who comes from wealth, but it's her cutthroat determination and hard work sending her to Juilliard; Orianna, mixed race (though that's not an Issue in the book), quirky and kind, decidedly not rich but devastatingly talented. And Amber, a bit of a cipher, trapped behind walls that are not simply physical.

Valleys: This one isn't a traditionally structured suspense novel. If you're looking for the kind of mystery that offers consistent action and a clear sense of what's going on at all times, this may not be the book for you. The Walls Around Us is far more mysterious, circling the truth and coming closer and closer each time, rather than progressing in a straight line toward the big reveal. I wouldn't call that a negative thing at all, just something that may attract a different set of readers.

Conclusion: This book is hard to talk about, elusive, difficult to pin down without telling too much. You'll just have to read it. The writing is luminous, and the genre not easily categorized, though you could call it magical realism. If you've enjoyed Nova Ren Suma's other YA books, you'll have an idea of what to expect. Readers who like a distinctive voice and an intense, literary style—I keep thinking of A.S. King, or Beth Kephart—would probably enjoy this one.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. You can find THE WALLS AROUND US by Nova Ren Suma at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

No comments: