Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Walls Around Us

I've written about ten different introductions to this review and hated all of them and this is the best I could come up with.

You see, my mind has been blown, and when one's brains are scattered about the room in squishy grey blobs, it's quite difficult to write a coherent review.  But I'll give it a go and we'll see what results.

Well.  I've been sitting here for about ten minutes and all I can think of is "I am Groot!" which, as a declaration of awesomeness, isn't bad, but I don't think I can make it into a full review.


Amber is an inmate at a girls' correctional facility.  Her roommate, D'amour, is hooked on a drug that the girls distill from a plant that grows outside of their cell.  Amber's mother abandoned her to the system, and the girls inside have become her family.  Prison is a safer home than home, because at least the rules are always the same and your stepfather doesn't beat her and her little sister.  At least, not any more.  Even though the other girls don't make Amber part of their little groups and cliques, that's okay.  She's got her book cart.

Amber would make a great librarian: her daily rounds with the book cart fulfill her.  She delivers stories and flights of fancy to other girls who need them.  That's probably why when, one night, when all of the doors unlock and the guards disappear, Amber doesn't really want to try to escape.  Not like D'amour or Annemarie or any of the other girls whose flight becomes a wild bacchanal of violence.  To top off this eerie night, Amber sees a girl ... a girl who's not an inmate.  Someone from the outside ... someone who asks for "Ori" ...  only there's no Ori in the compound.  At least, not yet.

*DIGRESSION ALERT*

Now, some people might stop here and say, "Ehhhh, I usually don't do paranormal stuff."  That's usually what I would say.  However, I think on the paranormal/magical realism spectrum (which I just totally made up for the purposes of this review), this falls slightly more on the "magical realism" side.  Magical realism is a tricky beast to define--Arizona State University has a web page filled with quotes by Real Scholars Who Write Theses With Epically Long Titles.  These Real Scholars try to define magical realism, but as evinced by the sheer mass of attempts, it's difficult.

Here's how I do it:  paranormal involves ghosts, vampires, werewolves, angels, or other metahuman creatures acting out their own intricate mythology.  So, there will be rules that govern how vampires act, for instance.  Generally, paranormal novels involve a main character who is a regular human (a mundie or a muggle or a meathead, whatever you will) suddenly encountering the rules of the paranormal world and struggling to deal with it.  There's conflict.

In magical realism, the world is our own, and elements of the paranormal seep over some sort of barrier, but the paranormal or magical aspects are accepted as part of how the world works.  It's an acceptance that there is fantasy in our reality and everything depends on how we individually process reality.

Back to our regularly scheduled review...

Now we cut to sometime in the near future.  Vee (Violet) was Ori's best friend.  Since Ori went to prison, Vee's gotten all her parts in ballet.  Orianna had innate talent, the kind that won't let you look away from the performance.  The kind that socks you in the gut.  Vee can do technical ballet work, but it's not effortless or easy.  However, she's now gotten into Juilliard.  She's gotten everything she's ever wanted.  Except Ori isn't there.

Right away, you know there is something majorly wrong with Vee and her perception of reality.  It was pretty easy for me to guess what was going on, but Nova Ren Suma's exploration of Vee's rationalizations and delusions was absolutely riveting.

We keep flipping between Vee and Amber's narratives up until the end, which I had to read a few times to allow it to soak in.

The Walls Around Us is special.  I'd feature it in a literature class along with E. Lockhart's We Were Liars for an exploration of unreliable narrators, guilt, and justice.  Nova Ren Suma tackles big, big themes in this book and handles them deftly.  She leaves just enough up to the reader to decide.  Is Vee's life one big excuse, or does she actually believe what she says she believes?  Is Amber deceiving others, herself, the reader, or all of the above?  Does she do so on purpose or not?  You could make cases for multiple readings of the same scene or the same narrative.

At first, Ori seemed too good to be true, but then I realized that the reader only knows Ori via the narration of two other people who have proven themselves to be unreliable.  Is Ori really the golden child that other people think she is?

I was in a slump, and this book reached down and gave me a solid kick in the behind with its uncluttered but graceful prose and mind-bending story.  This is a most highly recommended read, and I suppose I wouldn't even mind if a professional reviewer used the word "luminous" in her review, even though that descriptor normally makes me ill.  Except "luminous" isn't exactly the right word; if there were a word to describe a glowing mass of darkness and deception, it would apply perfectly to The Walls Around Us.

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