The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

What lurks beneath the facade we present to the world? What secrets do we keep hidden, even from ourselves? How many lies are we willing to live in order to satisfy the realization of our innermost fantasies? The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma is a fascinating character study of a group of adolescent girls who struggle with their true identities, the ones that fill their souls.

The book banters back and forth between premiere ballerina, Violet, set to attend Julliard in September, and Amber, sentenced to Aurora Hills Secure Juvenile Detention Center for a heinous crime she was accused of committing at the age of thirteen (an act so horrendous that even her own mother refuses to visit). One common denominator between these two teens is Orianna – former best friend to Vee and cellmate to Amber. Ori is a girl who is easy to love, one who brings light even to the squalid prison conditions of the institution. The inmates who struggle daily with their own feelings of guilt fail to see exactly how this harbinger of kindly gestures could have been dubbed “The Bloody Ballerina”.

Yet, that’s the story which is slowly revealed through the musings of our two storytellers – exactly what happened that day behind the dance studio where the pubescent girls gathered for a “bit of air” in the smoking tunnel. Even more fascinating is the narrative of life behind bars for young female inmates at the Upstate New York detention center. Throw in a touch of supernatural déjà Vous and you’ve got a mesmerizing little book.

While, at times, the plot allusions get confusing, it is readily evident which are the guilty parties. The author’s style keeps the reader riveted wanting to know how the events all tie in together with a conclusion that is in some ways predictable and in others totally shocking. Each character’s motivation, however, is not kept a secret. We might not approve of their actions, but we understand the circumstances that led to their dastardly deeds (and there are several). It’s too bad I can’t go into further details, as there are numerous highlights I am dying to discuss.

Don’t be put off by the Ballet theme, this is a book for both teens and adults, even those who don’t know a cartwheel from a plié. I especially liked the literary references (Amber’s life skills assignment was to wheel the library cart around, just in case anyone wanted a book to read or a message to pass). While Suma includes numerous citable quotes in her narrative, I was especially tickled with Ambers’s assessment that “reading a new book before anyone else got to it was like getting the first hot lunch”. Four stars for a fascinating psychological study.

A special thank you to Netgalley and Algonquin Books for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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