The Prison Ballerina, A Ghost Story – The Walls Around Us Review

Suma_WallsAroundUs_jkt_rgb_2MB_HR2Title: The Walls Around Us
Author: Nova Ren Suma
Genre: Young Adult
Published: March 24, 2015
Rating: ★★★★☆

Sometimes, despite age-old advice, you judge a book by its cover. Sometimes, in a time when Pinterest and Instagram fuel one’s obsession with typography and graphic design, a cover deems a book not only a “want” but a “must have,” no matter what the contents. And then, delightfully, sometimes you are truly lucky, as you judged a book by its cover and discovered that the insides were even more intriguing than the outsides.

Nova Ren Suma’s The Walls Around Us is an elegant yet eerie delight. Her prose is gorgeously crafted, and twists a gripping  tale of innocence and guilt, brilliantly layered between different characters, alternating periods of time and supernatural suspense.

The story is told through interchanging first person points of view. Amber, an inmate at a girl’s juvenile detention center, paints a vivid picture of prison life and the complexities of concepts like freedom, justice and guilt. The second point of view, told through the eyes of Violet, displays a portrait of potential, of ballerinas poised for greatness, of the unexpected unfairness of life and the cruelty of youth.

Both characters are connected by Orianna Speerling, whose story comes to light between these two girls. Violet was best friends with Ori when they were children and learned ballet by her side. Amber becomes Ori’s roommate in prison. As the stories dance back and forth between past, present and future, the reader is lead on a dizzying path between guilt and innocence, learning Ori’s story piece by piece and unraveling Amber’s and Violet’s secrets.

The reader is given a peek into two vastly different worlds – prison and ballet – that are different enough from every day life to feel compelling, but familiar enough settings that, with the aid of Suma’s gripping descriptions, rouse vivid mental images. Amber’s POV creates this incredible realistic portrayal of prison camaraderie – she often speaks as “We” instead of “I” – sisters in suffering, bonded together by their sentences, yet incredibly isolated and lonely. Violet’s story deals with more familiar themes of jealousy and “queen bee” issues, but is warped by rage and dark secrets.

And topping off the twists and turns you journey on the path to truth is a whole additional layer of supernatural suspense. Visions of things that shouldn’t be present, disturbing acts, glimpses into the future, strange whispers in the dark and death – all familiar elements of a ghost story.

I mean, to count each of these elements separately feels almost overwhelming – prison and ballerinas and ghosts and mystery – but the author weaves them together so delicately that you feel as if she is the master ballerina, her pen, the slipper-swathed foot, her stage, the pages of this eerie book.  Despite supernatural elements, the story feels grounded in reality, a marvel in and of itself.

My only teeeensy criticism is I didn’t quite like the conclusion. I’m all for justice being served, but was left with a huge question: “How did that work?” I welcome any theories – drop me a line at

A final bonus element that I found wonderfully enjoyable: Amber is, of all things, the prison librarian (we all know how much Ladies On The Shelf loves librarians). Tucked neatly into her story are descriptions of the intimacy of literature, how it can be a light in personal darkness, a secret shared between friends – concepts that echo the very themes of The Walls Around Us. Very meta, Nova.


I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. 

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