Book Review: The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

walls

Another title from my ReadWomen of December 2015. Again, sorry for not posting last week – my body and mind have been all but defeated by the flu :(.

“The Walls Around Us” is a story of two girls – Amber and Violet. The only thing tying them together is Orianna, the newest prisoner of Aurora Hills juvenile detention center. Before Orianna was imprisoned, she was Violet’s best friend and the two girls shared mostly everything, most importantly their passion for ballet. Being second-best to your best friend can, however, drive a wedge between you – can become an obsession, even. Just how far are you willing to go to chase the life of your dreams if your best friend is standing in your way? And if you’ve been in jail for so long you can’t even imagine ever being free again, how far are you willing to go to get justice?

 

It’s quite difficult to summarise the plot of “The Walls Around Us” without giving away major spoilers. I didn’t know much about the book when I got it – I bought it because I loved the cover and because one of my favourite YA authors Courtney Summers has previously praised Nova Ren Suma on Twitter.

Both Amber and Violet are very unreliable narrators stuck in terrible situations, and Nova Ren Suma provides a very deep insight into the protagonists’ minds, which was, more often than not, quite disturbing. In fact, “disturbing” and “chilling” are the perfect words to describe this novel. The writing is far from pretentious – the short sentences, the lack of decorative elements (except when it comes to ballet) make the dark and disturbing elements of the narrative stand out even more, and my mind loved every minute of it.

Yes, it is quite safe to say that “The Walls Around Us” is a major mindf**k. Despite the somewhat slow start and the fact that it took a few chapters to figure out the timeline and the points of view, the narratives later become overwhelming and gripping, leaving the reader baffled as to what is actually happening inside Aurora Hills and Violet’s dance studio. Nova Ren Suma masterfully uses her unpretentious writing to shatter any preconceptions we have of ballet as an “innocent”, “pure” form of art – her characters quite literally bleed for it, and the other side revealed to the reader in “The Walls Around Us” is very, very dark. I liked how the author made Orianna the center of the book despite SPOILER being dead by the time the book starts and only appearing in “flashbacks” END SPOILER. Amber and Violet were very, very flawed and far from likable, but that is what made them compelling to the reader. Orianna, while being at the center of both narratives, was presented as “the good one”, “the innocent one”, and yet she was the one who had more secrets than anyone else in the book.

The title – “The Walls Around Us” – doesn’t just refer to the walls of Aurora Hills juvenile detention facility, where Orianna and Amber spent time together before certain events had occurred. I believe that it also refers to the walls Violet builds around herself, as well as the truth, after Orianna is out of her life. One of the major themes of this novel is perception, how people only care about what’s outside. Violet’s narrative is packed with such elements, such “walls” that keep away people and protect the “bad things” she keeps inside. Amber is the same way – guarded, unreliable; except she also has prison walls and barbed wire.

“The Walls Around Us” is not an easy read. The author masterfully intervines magical realism, making it “there, but not quite” and the dark side of the art of ballet, weaving them together into a story that’s intense, strange, and packed with unreliable and unlikeable narrators and dark subjects. But I will certainly be reading more Nova Ren Suma in the future. My rating is 8/10.

 

Favourite quotes

“So much is about how you look on the outside. That’s what matters to most people. Smooth your hair and bobby-pin it down. Use as many pins as you need. Be sure to flick the eyeliner crumble out from the corners of your eyes. Wear your prettiest clothes. Pale noncolor colors help, like powder pink. Keep that good-girl mask on and no one will see past it to the bad, unstable girl inside”.

“People can’t move on until the finger is pointed, and the gavel’s come down. This is called closure, and it’s also called justice, and they are not always the same thing”.

“Home is where the heart is, and where the hell is, and where the hate is, and where the hopelessness is”.

 

Recommendations

You might like “The Walls Around Us” if you liked:

“Pointe” by Brandy Colbert

“Tiny Pretty Things” by Sona Charaipotra

“Black Swan” (the film)

“Orange is the New Black”

Have you read “The Walls Around Us”? What are your favourite Nova Ren Suma books? Do let me know!

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