The Walls Around Us is one of the most beautifully written books I have ever had the pleasure to read. The prose is perfect, slowly painting a full picture of the bleak lonely world that the characters inhabit.The novel reminded me of Shirley Jackson’s style of horror, specifically The Haunting of Hill House. This is a story that is completely driven by the characters, the reader has to rely on what the two narrators are telling you, even when you start to question if they are actually telling you the truth.
The story revolves around Orianna a young woman who’s life falls apart after a horrifying event happens behind the dance studio. Though we never get her perspective she is always at the center of the narrative. Orianna is the flawless golden girl. She’s kind, honest, beautiful and loyal. She’s a natural dancer, something that should cause all the other girls in her class to hate her, but no one can hate Orianna. She’s just too good. Or at least she seems to be. Since we never get her perspective we never know what she’s thinking or her motives. We only see her as the other characters see her. The story is told from the perspective of two girls: Violet, Ori’s best friend and Amber, one of the girls whom she interacts with at the girl’s juvenile centre Aurora Hills.
Right from the beginning you realize that both Violet and Amber are hiding things. Both girls are doing their best to avoid talking about their secrets, but as time progresses and their truths slowly start to leak out, the reader realizes just how horrifying these secrets are.
Violet spends the majority of the novel working through what happened to Orianna. Soon after she was sent to Aurora Hills there was an accident that resulted in the death of all those locked up there. Violet blames herself, and blames herself for not going to visit her friend. At the same time Violet doesn’t feel bad about what happened to Orianna, because with her friend gone, Violet’s life has taken off. For the first time she is out of Ori’s shadow. For once she’s the best and has gotten everything she has ever wanted. So how can she truly wish for Ori to be around? I loved how Violet’s story slowly built. She’s so close to freedom, leaving behind her hometown and all of her dark past behind forever, but her guilt keeps pulling her back. She can never escape herself. She’s constantly reminding herself that she’s a rotten person, but she just needs to explain why. Her arc is her finally facing what really happened behind the dance studio and what she really saw back there.
Amber’s story at first glance seems different than Violet’s. She was blamed for the death of her abusive step father. Her Mother abandoned her, choosing to seek justice for her abuser than to protect her daughter. Amber has been at Aurora Hills for a long time now. She has come to accept the routine of her life, even if she feels slightly isolated from the other girls. The only time she truly feels part of their community is when she’s pushing around the library cart and lending out the books to the other girls.
Soon after Orianna arrives, Amber is called to the office to be told she will be released soon. Amber struggles with this news wondering what life will be like outside, will her family really be waiting for her or has she been lost to the flow of time?
But as you guessed (or as the back of the book tells you) Amber is dead. She didn’t survive the accident that rocked Aurora Hills. And this is what makes this book so beautifully strange. Nova Rem Suma weaves together the two different time streams to tell her story.
The Walls Around Us deals with grief, guilt and regret. Nova Rem Suma plays with your expectations, taking a simple story and making it so much more complicated. it’s a beautiful little ghost story that I could not recommend more. So if you’re looking for something beautiful and different than give this book a read.