The Walls Around Us
Nova Ren Suma
Violet’s best friend Ori would have done anything for her. That’s what best friends do. At least, that’s what Violet tells herself happened that night behind the theater, the night those two girls died. After that, Ori gets sent upstate to a girls’ prison.
Amber waits for her new prison roommate. She’s known the girl will come since the night the doors opened, the night she saw the girl who didn’t belong. She also knows the new roommate starts the beginning of the end. That they will all die in a few weeks’ time.
In poetic narrative, Suma delivers a story of three girls and the guilt or innocence that binds them to one another. It’s thick, dark, and supernatural.
As a former dancer, I enjoyed the references to ballet and the role the competitive dance world played in shaping Orianna and Violet. It created a natural foundation of tension and sense of rivalry that kept me turning page after page of the story.
The supernatural element comes into play when all the prison doors open one night and many prisoners leave their cells. Amber meets a shadow of a girl who doesn’t belong and afterward sees glimpses of the prison as it looks in the future. It pretty much freaks her out and she worries that she’s losing her mind.
Suma pulls the threads of all the girls’ stories together powerfully in the conclusion of the tale. Again, it’s dark, but it also feels necessary. This is definitely less a feel-good tale and more a deeply thoughtful, balance-in-the-universe sort of story.
Both Ori and Violet are sexually active. Ori has a loving relationship with a devoted boyfriend, where Violet chooses shallower, physical relationships. In one scene, Violet engages in oral sex with a boy. She’s caught and possibly photographed in the act. There are also several brief references to girl-on-girl experiences within the prison.
Amber’s stepfather physically abused her. Amber fantasized about ways to murder her father in a journal. Descriptions are brief. The description of his death in a fire is also pretty brief.
Two girls bully another girl pretty severely. There are some brief descriptions of things they do. They’re less violent than straight up horrible.
A vine with flowers, a powerful hallucinogenic, grows outside Amber’s cell window. Some girls smoke the flowers to get high. Another inmate, Peaches, trades drugs to the other girls. No point-of-view characters use drugs in the story.