Written by: Nova Ren Suma
Published: September 4, 2018 by Algonquin Books for Young Readers
Synopsis: Bina has never forgotten the time she and her mother ran away from home. Her mother promised they would hitchhike to the city to escape Bina’s cruel father and start over. But before they could even leave town, Bina had a new stepfather and two new stepsisters, and a humming sense of betrayal pulling apart the bond with her mother—a bond Bina thought was unbreakable.
Eight years later, after too many lies and with trouble on her heels, Bina finds herself on the side of the road again, the city of her dreams calling for her. She has an old suitcase, a fresh black eye, and a room waiting for her at Catherine House, a young women’s residence in Greenwich Village with a tragic history, a vow of confidentiality, and dark, magical secrets. There, Bina is drawn to her enigmatic downstairs neighbor Monet, a girl who is equal parts intriguing and dangerous. As Bina’s lease begins to run out, and nightmare and memory get tangled, she will be forced to face the terrible truth of why she’s come to Catherine House and what it will take for her to leave...
I love Nova Ren Suma books and I was so excited to hear that she was coming out with a new one. The Walls Around Us is one of my favorite mysteries and that book is the perfect example on how an author can totally shock the reader at the very end of the book. I was really pumped to get a copy of this book at ALA and read this one. Unfortunately it was not as good as I was hoping.
One thing I will say about this book is how brilliant Nova's prose is. I'm constantly amazed at how beautiful and atmospheric Nova's writing books are and this one was no exception. It had this ethereal quality to it that was gorgeous and visual in a way that I completely loved. She has this great way of creating unique and engaging atmosphere that really draws the reader into the world. It's not over the top either, it just pulls you in with beautiful descriptions and writing that has been the the hallmark of here career.
However, that being said, I think this book relies too heavily on atmosphere. In terms of the world building, there isn't really any and there was a lot of opportunity for it. The setting of this book is very cool and interesting. Catherine House was truly fascinating. I love weird old houses with hidden passageways and secrets for the characters to uncover. Some of the best parts of this book were when they were finding things within the house. But we never got any information about it. And that was only the tip of the iceberg. I feel like sometimes when it comes to settings and worlds with magical realism, which is maybe what I would call this book, you have to remember that less is less. I get wanting to leave things open for interpretation but you need a world that is grounded in something.
But the plot of this book was also open for interpretation and that was even more confusing than the plot. I don't mind when mysteries have a crazy twist at the end of the book, but this felt different for some reason. I also don't mind when a book is left open for interpretation. Usually when that happens I'm left wondering what really happened and I desperately want to know. But here for some reason it felt like the book was being purposefully obstinate. I met Nova at ALA, when I picked up a copy of this book, and she said that this one leaves things totally up for interpretation which makes me thing she did all of this on purpose. Like she didn't want there to be an answer and I kind of realize I need an answer.
The one thing however I did like was the characters. Bina in particular was a really good main character. It was easy to root for her as the kind of character who has been through a lot of hardship and you want her to end up in a better place than she started with. I do think that she could have had better character development though. There were also some interesting secondary characters too. The people at Catherine House were really mysterious and intriguing. I wanted to know more about them and kind of wish we had gotten some answers about them, particularly Catherine herself.
On the whole, I think this showed a lot of promise that it never delivered on. I was totally excited to read it because I love Nova's writing but this one just felt purposefully obtuse and like it relied way too heavily on atmosphere. The mystery could have been much better and the world more grounded and engaging if there were some actual answers.
I give A Room Away from the Wolves 7.5 out of 10 stars
Have you read A Room Away from the Wolves? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!