The Walls Around Us, by Nova Ren Suma (Algonquin Young Readers, March 24, 2015, YA) but in order to discuss it, I have to spoil everything, and this is a book that's well worth reading unspoiled. So when I get to the part where I explain why I think there's timeslips happening, I shall helpfully insert the word "spoiler" and if you haven't read the book, you can stop reading there.
Locked inside Aurora Hills, a juvenile detention facility, is Amber, a teenage girl convicted of murdering her abusive stepfather. Outside is Vee, an aspiring ballet dance, whose life seems to be proceeding exactly how it should. But Vee's best friend and partner in dance Ori, isn't there any more. She's gone to join Amber at Aurora Hills. We learn about Ori through Amber and Vee's two very different perspectives, Vee's told in flashbacks from three years after Ori was convicted of a horrible crime, Amber's told in the time just before and just after Ori's arrival as her new cell-mate.
It's a story of guilt and innocence and surviving. And it's a gripping, twisty, incredibly vivid story, that kind of zings electrically across the pages, and I recommend it lots! Ori is a lovely character, Amber is a fascinating one, and Vee is more than just a pretty face and blistered feet.
Spoiler!!!! (this is the helpful insertion part, because I really am about to ruin the whole book for those who haven't read it. I mean it!)
But in any event, the description above makes it sound a lot more linear than it really is. In one early scene in the book, Amber sees the institution as it will be three years in the future, when it's been abandoned after a terrible tragedy (although at that point the reader has no clue what's going on), and sees Vee, and then later we learn that in Vee's present timeline, she does in fact visit Aurora Hills, and sees all the same graffiti and abandonment that Amber had seen. But Vee isn't just visiting, she's kind of traveling back in time, and Amber sees her for what she really is (not a nice person, to say the least), and in a bit of messing with temporal reality, Ori, who has now been dead for three years, isn't dead any more but now Vee is, and Ori goes free while Vee joins the ghosts of the guilty. My main problem with this (other than confusion) is that Ori has been dead three years and it's not clear whether she's alive in the post-gap present, not having aged, or possibly now three years older, or whether she's gone back in time enough to have a more complete do-over. And what will the grown-ups say when she shows up again?
I feel pretty certain that at least one slip in time (when Amber first sees Vee), possibly two (when things really go wild during the Swap of the Guilty and Innocent, has happened. School Library Journal calls it "magical realism" which I think is something of a cop-out. When a girl who died three years ago is now alive again, this is more than magical realism. Others call it a ghost story, and I agree there are ghosts involved. But there are also people who aren't dead (yet), but who simply exist in different times, crossing paths, and I don't think ghostly visions of past and future are enough of an explanation. If you've read it, do you agree that there are time slips happening?