There’s been a lot of excitement leading up to the release of Nova Ren Suma’s latest young adult book, The Walls Around Us. It’s been out for almost a full week now, and I’ve been seeing more and more blurbs claiming that the book is this year’s “Orange is the New Black Swan.”
Well…yes and no.
The book is about three teenage girls and is told from two of those girls’ perspectives (one of whom is now speaking from beyond the grave): Amber, who is imprisoned at Amber Hills juvenile detention center for murdering her stepfather; Violet, a well-off eighteen-year-old ballerina about to start her bright future at Julliard; and Orianna — Ori — Violet’s former best friend and and fellow ballerina, a girl from the wrong side of town whose mother left her when she was seven and who only really has ballet going for her. Ori was sent to Aurora Hills three years ago for the murder of two of their ballet classmates.
The Walls Around Us is as much a ghost story as it is a tale of friendship, jealousy, and betrayal in two environments that could not be more different from one another. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll just say things that are clear in the earliest parts of the book. Amber has a premonition that something bad is going to happen at Aurora Hills, but she doesn’t know enough at the time to be able to interpret her creepy visions. While she’s trying to figure things out, we learn more about her: she’s a lonely, misunderstood girl with a family history of domestic violence; no one ever visits her. Amber mostly keeps her head down and has managed to adapt to the sometimes violent hierarchy of life at the facility.
Violet Dumont comes from a completely different world. Sheltered and wealthy — she even has her own suite at home — all she wants is to become a ballerina. In the early years of ballet classes, she meets Orianna Speerling and finally has a friend. It is now years after Ori has been tried for murder, years since she was sent to Aurora Hills, and as Violet prepares to leave for Julliard, she is barely starting to revisit the events leading up to the day of the murder. Through Amber’s and Violet’s alternating perspectives, readers begin to piece Ori’s story together.
The ghost story aspect isn’t creepy in the strictest sense of the word, but it is psychologically tense in realistic ways. There are two kinds of prisons characters find themselves in throughout the book: the physical detention facility where they’re incarcerated by law, and the psychological prison that all of the characters — for a variety of reasons — have placed themselves in; both types of prisons play equally poignant roles in the book. And though I figured out a few things pretty quickly, there are enough twists in plot and time to keep readers on their toes until the end.
I’ve been following Nova Ren Suma on Twitter for years now because she seems like a cool person and I like her feed (although I’ll admit that I had never read any of her books before this one…Imaginary Girls has been on my TBR list for years!) and I remember hearing little non-spoilery snippets about this book as it was in the process of being written. It was nice to read the finished product, which I inhaled in a few sittings. I can see now why her books are so popular.
The Walls Around Us was released on March 24, 2015 by Algonquin Young Readers, an imprint of Algonquin Books.