I'm fast beginning to believe that Nova Ren Suma is the YA Shirley Jackson for our time. This is her third novel, the second that I've read. Her first, Imaginary Girls, is now on my kindle because she has interested me enough that I want to find out more. There are just the three books.
I saw someone liken this book to Orange is the New Black meets The Black Swan. I've not read either of them, so I can't speak to the accuracy of the comparison. But, this book is twisted, weird, the ending is obscure and inexplicable. I saw strong overtones of Sleeping Beauty, the ivy on the walls, the sense of separation, of being out of time. Not out of time, as in time is running out, but out of time as in free of the strictures of time. It has the feel of fairy tale. A dark fairy tale.
There are three main characters: Amber, Violet and Ori. Most of the book takes place within a juvenile detention facility for girls who have committed serious crimes.
"She was known by the state as inmate number 47709-01, and known by the public as Orianna Speerling, but if we’d followed the sensationalized news stories, we’d have heard the press call her the “Bloody Ballerina,” and we would have come up with a few pictures of our own thanks to that."
If we want to talk about the real-world themes, they are present: don't judge a person by their parentage, some kids are just fucked, everyone believes rich kids with good parents, money buys injustice, how do we incarcerate children, why do we incarcerate children, what are the goals, is it right or wrong that society treats them with the same inhumanity that they may have shown through their crimes? These are all questions worth asking and reasonable minds can differ on the answers.
But those real-world themes are wrapped in an oppressively veiled fable. A fairy tale of thrown-away girls, and the walls around them, and what grows in their gardens. And what happens when there is no justice for the innocent.
"Maybe, long ago, we used to be good. Maybe all little girls are good in the beginning. There might even be pictures of us from those easy days, when we wore braids and colorful barrettes, and played in sandboxes and on swing sets, if we knew days so easy or wore such barrettes. There was a photo of me in a red-checked shirt and two braids at the neighborhood park. I had a raised shovel and had lost a tooth, but I smiled anyway. My mother used to have that photo in a frame. But something happened to us between then and now. Something threw sand in our eyes, ground it in, and we couldn’t get it out. We still can’t."
The ending. I shake my head. I have to read it again, because I don't entirely understand.
Anyway, for the fans of Shirley Jackson, this is not horror, but it shares that sense of intangible dread, of eyes open but blind. I can't say I enjoyed reading it. But it was good.