43 Following

A Reading Vocation

"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton

This is where I chronicle my reading life.  I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.


Book 71/100: The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

The Walls Around Us - Nova Ren Suma


Was I being ridiculously generous when I awarded this book almost 5 stars, something I hardly ever do?

Several weeks after the fact, I wonder if the answer is yes. Somehow, I think five years from now this book will not be one that comes to mind quickly as a favorite. Even so, I found myself riveted by this story, and finished most of it in one day (granted, I was working in the kitchen and listened to it straight through). Still, I think the experience of consuming it all at once gave it greater emotional weight than it would have had stretched over many listening sessions. But the fact that I listened straight through and did not want to "put the book down" even once is telling.

Although it involves a ghost story, the book is not scary so much as that it carries a persistent scrim of creepiness, especially relating to the mass suicide that occurred at a juvenile prison. The book's characters were fleshed out well, and I appreciated the examination of a little-noticed sector of our society in the setting of the juvenile prison center. I also liked how Amber's narration, while detailing what life was like on the "inside," still managed to veil right up until the end whether she -- and many of her cellmates -- actually committed the crime for which she was accused. Perhaps most impressive was Suma's rendering of the imprisoned youth as individuals with their own personalities, dreams, and complicated reasons for ending up in "the big house."

These chapters alternate with those told from Violet's point of view. Violet is a dancer who, we find out early on, set up her best friend to take the fall for her for a heinous crime and thereafter reaped the benefits of her friend's absence -- most notably her unlikely acceleration to the front of her dance class, a position that has her on-track to attend Julliard after her graduation.

Although at first Violet seems nothing more than a self-centered, entitled "villain," one of the strengths of this novel is the way Suma continues to unravel her story, making her more and more sympathetic. She strikes that oh-so-delicate balance of making the reader want to see Violet get her comeuppance even while she tugs on our heartstrings more and more.

The pacing between the two narrative point of views never felt disjointed or strained, and it is that rare book that manages to make both storylines and narrative voices equally compelling. If you're looking for a slightly creepy book that is also a deep exploration of flawed and imperfect characters, this book fits the bill.