The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Length: 336 pages
Subjects: magical realism, juvenile detention centers, thriller
How I obtained the book: NetGalley eARC
“Ori’s dead because of what happened out behind the theater, in the tunnel made out of trees. She’s dead because she got sent to that place upstate, locked up with those monsters. And she got sent there because of me.”
The Walls Around Us is a ghostly story of suspense told in two voices—one still living and one long dead. 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 a girls’ juvenile detention center, there’s Amber, locked up for so long she can’t imagine freedom. Tying these two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls’ darkest mysteries.
We hear Amber’s story and Violet’s, and through them Orianna’s, first from one angle, then from another, until gradually we begin to get the whole picture—which is not necessarily the one that either Amber or Violet wants us to see.
Nova Ren Suma tells a supernatural tale of guilt and innocence, and what happens when one is mistaken for the other.
We were still alive, and we couldn’t make heads or tails of the darkness, so we couldn’t see how close we were to the end.
Haunting and eloquent, The Walls Around Us is a chilling story of two girls, whose lives are forever tied together in both life and death. Simultaneously feverish and ethereal, Amber and Violet’s paths towards the truth are both compelling and soul-crushing. The Walls Around Us is a unique ghost story, as it is ultimately about the death of dreams and ghostly lingering of hope.
The Walls Around Us is a desperately, achingly sad book. Nova Ren Suma wove ounces of melancholy into each and every chapter, making your heart ache for all the girls within its pages, and their wasted potential. From Violet to D’amour, each character brought something new to the novel, and without even side characters, the atmosphere wouldn’t be the same.
Despite their actions, both of the main characters were relatable and immensely well written. Throughout everything, Violet has squirreled her way into my heart with her conniving and morally grey ways. Amber, while not personally my favorite in the book, was an extraordinary character whose actions garnered my respect and love. Orianna’s personality was the most likable of all of them, and I felt incredibly sad for her and everything she went through.
The writing is light and airy on one page, and dark and desolate on the next. With poignant detail, the world of The Walls Around Us is hyper-realistic and I could practically feel the cold, harsh walls of the Aurora Hills Secure Juvenile Detention Center and watch Ori’s solo piece from the dance of the Firebird.
Suma’s novels have never been the fastest or the easiest to read. Despite their gift with writing, their books can often be difficult to get through, and fully understand the book. While Suma’s issue isn’t completely resolved and at times I found my attention slipping, I found The Walls Around Us much easier to read than their other books, like 17 & Gone. The plot is much easier to understand here, though some chapters took me a couple extra readings to fully comprehend.
Like most Nova Ren Suma books, the plot feels very faraway, tying everything together but never the focus of the book. While The Walls Around Us is certainly not lacking in plot, it is sometimes hard to find it through the thick prose, and it’s easy for important strands of the story to slip through your fingers.
Told in half truths, the reader is forced to sift through the chapters in order to find the truth. Heavily character driven, Suma focuses on character development in order to tell the story. As we learn about the two girls and their stories, it becomes increasingly obvious what truly happened. The Walls Around Us is most definitely not a quick read, as it requires more comprehension and focus than most books.
Beautifully crafted, Nova Ren Suma continues to delight their readers with stories of guilt, innocence, and the price of the truth. It’s dark and somber, yet strangely beautiful and peaceful. The Walls Around Us is an all-around must read.