July 17, 2016

Nova Ren Suma: "The Walls Around Us"

Title: The Walls Around Us [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Nova Ren Suma [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Contemporary with a Twist, Supernatural
Year: 2015
Age: 12+
Stars: 5/5
Pros: Engrossing story (or stories) told in a lyrical prose that never feels overdone. Surprise ending in a magical-realism vein that still feels very rooted in the story - and emotionally satisfying..
Cons: May sound confusing to some. One of the characters is NOT likeable - though the author does a great job making us experience her feelings. 
WARNING! Some violence, both graphic and implied. A sex scene (not overly graphic).
Will appeal to: Those who love ballet. Those who love prison stories. Those who don't necessarily love either, but can't resist strong - if flawed - leads, and ghosts, and magical realism.

Blurb: 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 the Aurora Hills juvenile detention center, there’s Amber, locked up for so long she can’t imagine freedom. Tying their two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls’ darkest mysteries. A supernatural tale of guilt and of innocence, and of what happens when one is mistaken for the other. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: I love this book. Can we leave it at that?
Um, I suppose not. Maybe you want my reasons for loving this book. Also because, hello? this is a book blog - set up in order to REVIEW books. It's just that...it's hard not to spoil this one. Harder than with any other book I've reviewed in almost four years. And mind you, I'm not saying that TWAU loses its charm once you've read it for the first time and discovered all its secret. NO. EFFING. WAY. I'm just saying that I have to do this book justice and still let you go blind into it, which is a challenge. Well, OK, I'm up for a challenge. I CAN DO IT I CAN DO IT I CAN...*repeats self-motivating mantra* 


I always read the opening pages on Amazon when I plan on buying a book. No mindblowing story idea can convince me to read a book if me and the writing don't click. And boy, this one. Mind you, I don't do flowery prose. And TWAU doesn't have it. This is writing at its best - lyrical and poignant (but also raw when needed...I mean poetically raw...if you get what I'm trying to say) without turning into an exercise of style. This novel has one of the strongest first chapters I've ever read, for three reasons:
  1. it's told from a choral perspective, in a first-person plural which is fresh and powerful;
  2. it thrusts you knee-deep into the action;
  3. have I mentioned the writing already?


The story is told in alternate chapters, by two narrators: up-and-coming ballet dancer Violet and juvenile detention center inmate Amber. And despite what you may think of them, BOTH girls have been through their own private hell, and are still stuck in there. Because yes, there's also a hell in wanting something so desperately that your whole life becomes your goal, and everything gets blown out of proportion, until you snap and do the unforgivable. It should be easy to hate one of the girls and to pity the other. But then again it isn't, because your heart will ache for both of them, AND of course for the third girl, Orianna. And even for all the other inmates at Aurora Hills. Because here's the fact: sometimes there's guilt in innocence, and innocence in guilt, and there's always pain in being human, whether you're at fault or not. And Nova Ren Suma makes us feel that pain - oh so bittersweetly. [...]


Both Violet and Amber's voices are very strong. Yes, there was never the chance to mistake one for the other, because of the different settings - but all the same, I found that they never ended up blending into each other. And though I usually cringe at the thought of reading/watching anything set behind prison bars, I really enjoyed the whole detention center narrative...In a way, it was easier to read about Amber's plights than Violet's - her world, for all its glittering surface, was even darker than Amber's, which is saying something. On the other hand, the prison section doesn't shun violence (though it never gets overly graphic), griminess, oppression or fear. Also, like other reviewers before me have noted (read Liviania's review | read Pamela's review), the whole story reads like a social commentary about justice, privilege, guilt and remorse. It's not always in your face - most of the times, it's weaved into the story in a subtler way - but always flawlessly executed.


TWAU is many things: a contemporary novel about innocence, guilt and punishment. The story of a friendship gone bad. A depiction of the fiercely selfish, delusional mind of a girl and the desperate world of another. The story of a third girl who doesn't know how to fend for herself. But the glue that ties all those components together is what people call "magical realism"...a label that can be applied to many different kind of stories. In this case, we're talking about ghosts. And not your regular ghosts. I can't give away their role in the story - suffice to say, their interaction with humans will flip the book upside down in the end. There are clues all over the story, if you pay attention - and sometimes, even if you don't. But I'm telling you, the ending is totally unexpected, batshit and satisfying.


After all I've written, I still feel so perfectly inadequate to convey the beauty of this book. But what I can say is - I hate mean girls, and I loved this story. I get the creeps at the thought of prison narratives, and I loved this story. Conversely, I love ghosts and magical realism, and I got even more than I bargained for when I read this story. This is one of the gems in the YA field, but it transcends the age range like few other books can. If you like straight-up stories with clear paths and recognizable beginnings and endings, you won't enjoy TWAU. Otherwise, you can't pass on this book. Don't you dare. I warned you.

For quotes from this book click here.
For more books that defy categories, click here.


  1. You hate mean girls and yet you loved this story- does this mean they weren't mean enough or you loved the writing too much for it to matter anyway? :D I'm thinking it's the latter. I've been hoping to pick this one up if only because I've been wanting to read a book by this author ever since I read a short story by her in Slasher Girls & Monster Boys...so of course, I know her writing is amazing! Anyway, i think you did this book justice, Roby- I REALLY want to read this one soon now!

    Ruzaika @ The Regal Critiques

    1. Haha, yes, the latter, but not only by way of "writing style". NRS was able to make me empathise with all the characters, regardless of their meanness level. To understand them, if not forgive them. Also, the meanness in this book served a purpose - while most stories seem to revolve around malignity for the sake of it...as if the characters were thinking "let's do this and that just because we can".

      And thank you - now go and put this one at the top of your TBR pile! Vera beat you to it - and if even little old me did, your case is serious ;P.

  2. We don't often show an interest in the same kind of books but this does sound good to me. I'm a little wary of the magical realism though - I don't seem to do to well with that. Maybe I just haven't read the right book yet.

    Karen @For What It's Worth

    1. Well, I'm sure that - at least when it comes to the writing - this one won't disappoint. I'm not sure if you can take what happens in the end, but the narrative(s) is (are) great, too. I'd honestly say, take a chance :).

  3. This sounds really good, Roberta, and it's been on my list of books to read since before it was released. I really should get to it :)
    Great review!
    Have a wonderful week and happy reading.
    Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews

    1. Thanks! I hope I managed to push it a little higher on your TBR list :).


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