One reader I follow on Goodreads called this “a beautiful little mindf*ck of a novel”, and…
… that is 100% accurate.
The description 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?
This book, by Nova Ren Suma, is told from two perspectives: Amber, a prisoner who’s been locked up for killing her stepfather (guilt unclear for most of the book) and Violet, a ballerina about to attend Juilliard (guilt also unclear for most of the book). Both of them knew Orianna at different points in life. There’s a shifting timeline–we’re told up front that Orianna and Amber are both dead, killed in an accident at the prison three years ago–but we get scenes from them nonetheless. So. Yes, odd.
Should you read this book? Let’s see:
The prose It was lyrical and lovely, and on top of that, not straightforward. I found myself rereading sentences just to make sure I understood their meanings, to make sure I knew what was going on. I didn’t, always. I do not consider this a bad thing.
The realistic portrayals of the girls These characters jumped off the page. Sometimes teenage girls in stories can feel like cliches, or placeholders for the reader. These felt like actual humans. So, so well done.
The unlikeable protagonists who keep you reading This is a very difficult thing to pull off, in my opinion. Generally I need to like at least one of the narrators in order to empathize. But in this book, I didn’t particularly like anybody. All it really did was make me happy to have never been in prison, and also happy to have been so terrible at ballet that I quit at age six. (Are all ballerinas secretly maniacal sociopaths prone to murder, or is that just in fiction?) But I still kept reading; I had to know how their stories ended.
The subtle paranormal elements When you start off a book stating two of your main characters are dead, obviously there’s going to be some paranormal, or at the very least some magical realism involved, so if that’s not your jam, perhaps you should skip this. I’m generally meh towards jump-out-and-boo ghost stories–but this was no such thing. The paranormal was so subtle that you find yourself constantly questioning what’s real and what’s not.
The less good
Orianna I would have liked more from Orianna. Without spoiling anything, there’s a decision she makes that I think is supposed to be explained within the text, but I don’t really buy the explanation. Without that hinging the story together, some of what happens logically kind of falls apart.
Other than that, not much else. I think I would have just liked more of it. A lot of stuff had to be inferred–which is not bad!–but sometimes it felt like this story had been too heavily edited. I would have liked more scenes leading up to the why of the thing, more scenes depicting the background of Violet and Orianna and their shared history, more scenes from inside the prison with Amber and the other inmates. Don’t get me wrong–I love books where what actually happened is never explicitly stated (ahem). Perhaps what I really want is someone to discuss this and trade theories with. So if you’ve read it, let’s discuss, please?
8/10 stars for me, which means: read it!