I like books that pick a “thing” and just run with it, even if that “thing” isn’t necessarily my thing. Dinosaurs? Bring it on. Horses? OK, see you there. Focusing on a specific theme can maximize upon immediate appeal for horse- and dinosaur-loving readers, and it can offer insight for casual amateurs, like myself. However, themes should inform, never isolate, the novice reader, and I’m afraid that’s the vibe I got from Nova Ren Suma’s The Walls Around Us.
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…
What really happened on the night Orianna stepped between Violet and her tormentors? What really happened on two strange nights at Aurora Hills? Will Amber and Violet and Orianna ever get the justice they deserve—in this life or in another one?
Did you notice the casual mention of dancing in the teaser above? It was all, “Nbd, there’s dancing.” Let me set the record straight: this novel is all about dancing. In the recipe that is The Walls Around Us, there’s like 1 teaspoon of murder to 6 cups of ballet references. We learn about the outfits, the hairstyles, the feelings onstage vs. the feelings offstage, the injuries, the tricks of the trade, and of course, the official names of the dance moves in all their French glory.
Now, I took dance classes in middle and high school, so I assumed I’d be fine. I can picture a pas de bourrée just as well as the next reader, and the murder mystery set in a Juvenile Detention Center really upped the appeal, so I took the bait. The dance-to-murder ratios, however, that were present in the teaser were essentially reversed in the story, so that my interest in the prison/murder plot line was overshadowed by the boring “Dance Life” story.
Aside from the focus on ballet, I found the storytelling to be a bit drawn out; the perspective swapped between two central characters, one of whom (the prisoner) seemed to spend her first 5 chapters telling the exact same story in different ways. The suspense built and built with each retelling of the same few moments, so that when explanation was finally given, it was utterly anti-climactic. It felt like an afterthought on the author’s part, as though Suma focused so heavily on the bizarre nature of those first few moments that she spent too little time coming up with a valid explanation for her readers. It was interesting, then exhausting, then disappointing.
My other qualm with The Walls Around Us was that it was an entirely realistic mystery novel until, BAM!, things got paranormal. I love paranormal things, so that is not my issue; the issue was that it seemed like another desperate grab for resolution on the author’s part, as though she had cooked up a scenario that could only be resolved through paranormal intervention. I’m convinced that Suma had the bare bones of a good story that she then insulated with literary packing-peanuts, just words and moments that took up space. “More dance references! Let me retell that story one more time! Hey, let’s throw some paranormal stuff in there!” No, Suma. You ruined it.
Good things? It was an original idea, I think. I haven’t read anything like it before, so it had that going for it. The writing was also crafted so that readers were often challenged to feel pity for convicted felons. That takes some skill.
Otherwise, I do not recommend this novel to anyone; that’s not to say you wouldn’t enjoy it, though. Read it or don’t. See if I care.