I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley
Release date: 24th March 2015
I don’t even know where to start with reviewing this book. When I got approved to read it through NetGalley last year, I expected it to be a relatively average piece of YA fodder, and left it sitting on my shelf for months. When its publication date was coming around, I picked it up again. And I discovered that there is nothing average about this book. It’s a haunting, evocative suspense novel which genuinely gave me nightmares – I’m not sure that’s ever happened due to a book before.
For me, the writing felt a lot more mature than YA, but I can see why this book is classed as this because the main focus is the story is teenage girls – and how cruel they can be. It’s told through the eyes of two girls, Amber and Violet. Amber is currently residing in Aurora Hills Secure Detention Centre, sentenced for the murder of her stepfather years earlier. Violet is a determined ballerina on the cusp of a bright future, but she has a few skeletons in her closet which need putting to rest before she takes the next step in her career.
To begin with, we have no idea what connects the two young girls; two people living lives which could scarcely be more different. But as an elaborate story of determination, death and betrayal is unravelled, a third character comes into view. Oriana Speerling – Ori – is the missing link, the thread which links this unlikely duo and, through the two’s perspectives, her story is gradually revealed.
The novel alternates between the two girls’ perspectives, and both were narrated beautifully. Through Amber we get a realistic insight into the grim life in a juvenile detention centre; the gruelling routines, the tentative friendships and the battle between a sense of confinement and institutionalism. Each girl in the prison has their own story and their bold personalities combine to create a truly multi-layered, captivating story.
Elsewhere, Violet’s story also carries a sense of confinement – that of her own ambition. Having spent much of her life under the shadow of her best friend Oriana – who was not only a much better dancer but a nicer person too – Violet is now going it alone, and she’s more determined to succeed than ever before. But there’s something about her past that haunts her, a part of herself that she has to hide from the world, and it won’t quite let her go.
“The gross parts of the person I really am, the blood and guts, the ugliness, the slimy secrets, the liar I’m hiding in there, the true person I am, tangled up with the worms and the rot.”
I’ve seen this book dubbed as ‘Orange Is The New Black Swan’ and, while I haven’t seen much of Orange Is The New Black, this description seems pretty apt. It definitely had the suffocating, strained atmosphere of the competitive dancing world, like Black Swan, with the same sense of something darker lurking around the corner.
“When a dancer finds herself onstage, before an audience, and comes upon that dreaded moment that can happen even to the best of us, when her mind empties of her choreography in a flood of panic, there are three different reactions she can have. In each one, she’s like a wild animal in the headlights, but the question is, which animal will she be tonight?”
The plot of this story is dark and mesmerising enough, but what really stood out to me is the writing. Nova Ren Suma’s prose is both beautiful and haunting; elegant and disturbing. It really set this apart from other books in the genre. It has an almost ethereal tone to it, and it drew me in completely.
The publishers describe this book as a ‘supernatural tale’, and while there is an element of the supernatural, it doesn’t come in until very near the end. The majority of the book explores the darkness within people, rather than anything paranormal. That having been said, when this element kicked in near the end of the book it completely blew me away. This is the first book I have read from this author, but it definitely won’t be the last.