The One with the Locked-in Ballerina

Nova Ren Suma, The Walls Around Us (2015)

Unreliable narrators, switching viewpoints, double plot-lines, all these are not usually YA fiction’s trademark, because YA is supposed to be “easier”: more linear and straightforward. It’s supposed to be cleaner and safer. It’s supposed to be more about plot and action and less about characters and psychology. But I think that now YA has blurred the lines and gone up a notch or two. At least, that’s what I felt reading The Walls Around Us.

The Walls Around Us tells of Amber, a girl convicted for her stepfather’s murder and living in a juvenile detention center with 40ish other female inmates. It tells of Violet, a young ballerina who will soon leave her small town to study ballet at Juilliard. It tells of Orianna, who used to be Violet’s best friend but ended up in the same detention center as Amber. We hear Amber’s voice and Violet’s voice, and both are kind of dark and disturbing, but we never get to hear Orianna’s.

Disclosure: I have followed Nova Ren Suma’s blog, Distraction 99, since… well, over a decade now. It was one of the first blogs I read, and at that time she hadn’t yet published a single novel. How far she has gone! I bought this one on Kindle during a special Amazon offer (which extended to Amazon France!, a rare occurrence)

Ballerinas are a bit clichéd when it comes to YA literature. They’re the perfect type-A dressed in pink tutus, and most people know they are supposed to be good, but are also very competitive. This book reminded me of the movie Black Swan, that presented the dark side of ballerinas, both neurotic, self-centered and dangerous.

It’s a Gothic tale with bleak moments, but I didn’t find it too shocking, because surprises are anticipated with clever clues (that a YA reader might miss or pick up, I’m not sure). Both closed worlds, the ballerinas world and the prison world, with their own quirks and mentality, are very well painted. There is some supernatural, but not too much, so that it makes for a much-needed engrossing read.

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One thought on “The One with the Locked-in Ballerina

  1. Okay, number one, this sounds awesome, and number two, ballet is not nearly ENOUGH of a cliche in YA fiction. I am constantly grumping about there not being enough ballet school books in YA literature, and I absolutely stand by that grump. Ballet boarding schools always is my motto.

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