The Walls Around Us, by Nova Ren Suma, (YA, 2015, 319 pages). Could all ghosts be said to be time travelers from the past? Perhaps. In any case, this novel is more ghost story than traditional time travel story, so I almost didn’t review it on this blog. But the writing is so razor-sharp and dense, not dense like a dense forest that’s hard to get through, but dense as in having very little space between the powerful words, that I would be sad to think that anyone might overlook it.
The book starts with an eerie intensity and never lets up. From the first chapter:
…when the locks came undone, the doors of our cells gaping open and no one to shove us back in, we made the noise of savage animals, of men. … We were gasoline rushing for a lit match. We were bared teeth. Balled fists. A stampede of slick feet. We went wild, just like anyone would. We lost our fool heads. …This felt like everything we’d dared let ourselves dream up, when the taunting fantasies slipped in between the bars. Wishes for fast getaway cars or Rapunzel ropes to climb out the narrow window openings. Pleas for forgiveness, for vengeange, for glittery new lives on some far-off riviera where we’d never have to face hate or law or pain.
It reminds me somewhat of the poetry of Walt Whitman. I probably can’t say much about this book that hasn’t already been said, as it has received a lot of attention and numerous accolades. (See author website for list.) Here’s the story summary from Goodreads:
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?
In prose that sings from line to line, Nova Ren Suma tells a supernatural tale of guilt and of innocence, and of what happens when one is mistaken for the other.
This story is about two girls with a passion for ballet dancing, who are best friends from the age of eight. One of them winds up locked in the bleakest of girls’ prisons, and finding out how she got there will keep you on the edge of your seat. The story could be described as a psychological thriller. I liked being shown the behind-the-scenes of two worlds–that of young ballet dancers, and that of the society of the female prisoners. Both cultures had subtle rules that were nonetheless ironclad.
Here is NRS discussing The Walls Around Us, and reading it. She starts reading from the book at 11:08, an excerpt that gives me chills.
On a completely different note, if you happen to be looking for a picture book that is not about time travel, but is about travel and time (including devices to measure time such as sundials, water clocks, hourglasses, and aromatic clocks), look no further than In the Land of Broken Time (2016, 71 pages) by Max and Maria Evan. In this tale a boy, a girl, and a talking dog go on a magical journey.