Nova Ren Suma

The Walls Around Us

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The Walls Around Us Summary

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Nova Ren Suma’s young adult novel, The Walls Around Us (2015), combines two unreliable narrators in different timelines with supernatural elements to slowly reveal a surprising murder mystery.

Amber, a prisoner at Aurora Hills Secure Juvenile Detention Center, describes an odd event when all the doors of the prison opened and the girls discovered none of the guards were at their stations. The girls have various reactions to this event, ranging from violence to tears. Several plot to escape, but Amber remains.

The story shifts to Violet, a ballerina. Violet despises the town where she lives. Wealthy, she thinks little of the people around her, and can’t wait to leave to pursue her dance career at Julliard. She is haunted by a girl who was imprisoned at Aurora Hills—Orianna, a fellow ballerina whom Violet reveals has been dead for three years. Violet reflects that Orianna was a better dancer than she; Orianna had a natural talent that Violet will never be able to match. Violet was present when the incident occurred that sent Orianna to prison.

Amber works as a librarian in the prison, keeping her head down. She wishes simply to serve her time and get out. She was convicted of murdering her stepfather. On the evening of the open doors and the prison riot, Amber had a vision of a girl—a ghostly apparition that resembles Violet. Because of this vision, Amber chose to remain in prison despite the clear possibility of escape. Remaining, she runs into a guard and assaults him, landing in solitary confinement.

After Violet’s performance, where she receives a standing ovation, she is horrified to receive a bouquet of flowers with blood poured over them. Her friend Sarabeth invites her to come with a group of friends to visit Aurora Hills, which is now empty and abandoned. We learn that some years before, all the girls imprisoned there died. Violet accompanies Sarabeth, her boyfriend, Tommy, and Orianna’s old boyfriend, Miles to the prison. Convicted of the deaths of two other ballerinas, Orianna had been sent to the prison; Miles makes it clear that he believes Violet was the true murderer. Violet suspects Miles is behind the bloody flowers. Miles locks Violet inside the cell Orianna had occupied. Violet has a supernatural experience, seeing the ghostly form of Amber. Violet runs away in terror.

In what is now clearly the past, Orianna arrives at Aurora Hills and is assigned to Amber’s cell. The two girls bond, and Amber finds herself liking Orianna very much; she sees Orianna as a genuine, kind person in contrast to the hard, mean people around her. Orianna draws a sketch of Violet; Amber is shocked to recognize the girl she saw in her vision. Meeting with prison officials and her attorney, Amber learns that her mother has reconsidered; Amber might be given a chance to reduce her sentence and possibly get out of prison earlier. The other prisoners, jealous of this turn of events, assault Amber.

Violet is visited by Orianna, now clearly a ghost. Orianna demands an apology, but Violet refuses. She admits to the murders, however, describing the evening to Orianna. The two ballerinas she killed had been bullying her, making her miserable. One of the girls had been Orianna’s best friend. Violet was also jealous of Orianna’s natural dancing ability. Passing out after killing her rivals, Violet blamed Orianna for the killings when she regained consciousness. Violet goes to Aurora Hills again to confront Orianna a final time, but the prisoners, all of whom died at the same time, haunt the living on the anniversary of their death. They attack Violet. Violet almost escapes, but seeing a way atone for her crimes, Amber swaps Violet’s spirit for Orianna’s. She attacks and kills Violet.

Amber gets her revenge on the other prisoners by poisoning their food. When Orianna dies from the poison, her spirit claims Violet’s guilt. When Violet dies three years later, Orianna inhabits her body. Orianna, now in Violet’s body, walks back to the car where Miles and Sarabeth are waiting. This has all been planned; Miles and Sarabeth manipulated Violet into admitting her guilt and going to the prison so Orianna could claim her body. Orianna will now go to Julliard in Violet’s stead and have the life that she should have had before Violet destroyed her life with her lies and the frame-up for the murders.

The official paperwork at the abandoned prison is shown to have Orianna’s name removed.