If I had to describe The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma by combining a movie I’ve never seen with a TV show I’ve also never seen, this book would be a perfect mixture of Black Swan and Orange is the New Black. (Probably. Because like I said, I’ve never seen either.)
Regardless, this novel, full of magical realism, tells the story of ballerina-turned-inmate, Orianna Speerling, through the eyes of her former best friend, Violet, during the latter’s last few days before attending Julliard, and her cellmate at the Aurora Hills Secure Juvenile Detention Center, Amber, during the last few days of the inmates’ lives. These tales intertwine through Ori, whose interference in a murder changes her from a ballet prodigy to a cold-blooded criminal.
Normally when I read a book, I’m drawn most to the plot and the characters of the story, but with this particular novel, I was fascinated by the way in which it was told. Suma alternates point of view between Amber and Violet, but twists the conventional usage of alternating chapters to use the fourth person “we” during most of Amber’s sections. Amber often refers to the entire population of the detention center as one POV. It gives this sense that all of the inmates are linked through their crimes, their regrets, their pasts—even though Amber often describes herself as an outsider (until Ori comes along).
On the complete opposite side of that spectrum is Violet’s POV, which is in first person. While this may be a common POV choice in YA, contrasted against Amber’s constant use of “we” and “us”, Violet’s arrogant and narcissistic personality is amplified through this voice.
Another stylistic touch that I really enjoyed was that I could tell who narrates the chapter not because it explicitly says, but because the chapter titles are either the first words or the last words of the chapter. Amber’s chapters are titled with the first words, and Violet’s chapters are titled with the last words. I’m not sure what symbolism that detail might hold, if any at all, but it was just an aesthetic touch that expertly created an interesting way to tell this story.
And the story, too, is just as enthralling. It’s filled with suspense. As I read, I couldn’t decide if Ori was innocent or guilty until the very end, when it’s finally revealed. She’s a character I wanted to root for, but she was also a character I was leery of, because the truth behind the crime was so foggy. Suma does an impeccable job at revealing the right information at the right time in the right amount. It’s never too much and it’s never too little. It’s just right.
Forget what I said about this novel being a combination of Black Swan and Orange is the New Black. It’s not. It’s its own compelling, addictive, suspenseful story that Suma expertly tells through radiant prose and nifty choices of form. Read it. Because, simply put, it’s amazing.