Welcome to a read-it-if review that has been looooong time coming. I’ve had today’s book on my review shelf from Netgalley for months and months and months (surely close to a year!) but I have only just got around to it because it is released this month. I must admit I very nearly had a “I’ve waited so long to read this and it’s THIS BAD?” moment early on, but thankfully for all concerned, I ended up really enjoying the (figuratively) muddy plot and the confusing twists. Today, then, I have for you The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
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.
Read it if:
*you prefer that if a book has to be mysterious and confusing, it had better be that way right from page one
* you always suspected that behind the tutu and perfect posture, ballerinas get up to some weird
* you’ve never been too worried about ending up in prison because you have been blessed with a body shape that looks fab in shapeless overalls.
* you make it a point never to eat things you find growing on your walls.
The Walls Around Us is told from two points of view. There’s Violet – self-assured, set-apart and biding time until she begins at Julliard. Then there’s Amber – beaten-down, self-conscious and biding her time until her release from a high security juvenile detention centre. The story begins with Violet as she prepares to dance in her ballet school’s showcase and reminisces about her old friend Ori, who died three years previously. The first few chapters of the book did have me scrunching up my face in mild annoyance because the events of the moment are intentionally mixed up with not-quite-clear happenings from the past and this, coupled with the reasonably unpleasant personality of Violet had me fighting to remember why on earth I had requested this book in the first place.
I persevered though and was quickly rewarded with Amber’s chapters which, while still confusing – who was this girl and what does she have to do with anything? – suddenly got interesting as the magical realism kicked in. I’m not going to spoil anything for you here, but after riding out the initial parts of Amber’s story, it becomes apparent that there are two intertwining storylines here – one (Violet’s) which has a reasonably obvious trajectory for the most part, and the other which is completely baffling and will have you wondering, “how on earth is the author going to marry these two plot arcs up?”
On finishing this one I nodded appreciatively in the imagined direction of the author and tucked this book away in the “well, that was unexpected” category. I don’t think the style of this book will be for everyone, but I certainly enjoyed the strange combination of creepy, paranormal mystery and ordinary teen drama that pervaded the story. For me, the value of this tome is all in the clever construction of the narrative, using two mildly unreliable narrators to tell the story of a third party. The Walls Around Us is definitely worth a look if you are after an understated sort of paranormal mystery and are happy to persevere past a disorienting beginning.
Until next time,