BOOK REPORT for A Room Away From The Wolves by Nova Ren Suma

 

Cover Story: Starry Night

BFF Charm: Maybe

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Swoonworthy Scale: 1

Talky Talk: Poetic Aesthetic

Bonus Factors: Boarding House, Wicked Stepsisters, New York City

Relationship Status: A Thief In The Night

 

Cover Story: Starry Night

This cover is just gorgeous: the deep purple and black cityscape and stars evoke a haunted atmosphere before you even turn the page. I love when designers give a young reader credit—there’s nothing wrong with fancy dresses and big faces, but covers like this encourage the reader to fill in the gaps with their imagination instead.

Also, I hear the hardcover is sparkly. Sparkly!

The Deal:

Sabina (Bina) Tremper is a liar and a thief, or so she says. She is definitely seventeen and on her own in New York City for the first time, however, escaping from her wicked stepsisters and desperate-to-please mother, who kicked her out of their home so the sisters could get “space.”

Drawn by her young mother’s stories of achieving her own independence, Bina heads to NYC and approaches the Catherine House: a hundred-year-old boarding house for young women, named after a woman who jumped off the roof in order to disappear. When Bina calls, there just happens to be a room available…but like Bina herself, the house and the girls are not what they seem.

BFF Charm: Maybe

Bina is a first-person narrator, but she’s inscrutable. Part of this is because she’s also an unreliable narrator, so we only have her words and her memories to go on. If you trust the way she tells it, she’s a girl who was uprooted from her home several times and just wants to find a place she belongs—and while that’s not BFF charm material in and of itself, it tugged at my empathy, at least. But this is a Nova Ren Suma book, so nothing is as it seems, and the atmosphere is practically a character itself. (The gothic atmosphere definitely gets my BFF charm.)

Swoonworthy Scale: 1

Don’t go into this book looking for swoon, although there were a few moments that made me wonder just what Bina was leaving out of her retellings.

Talky Talk: Poetic Aesthetic

Nova Ren Suma is wildly underrated. Diving into one of her books is a guarantee that you’ll be transported to a strange and lovely place, where darkness lurks and the journeys are the actual destination. This is another work that rewards the careful read and the re-read—which you won’t mind, because her prose is lush, poetic, and invites you to drown in it. Her young women are wild and on the brink of something big, whether it be adulthood or adventure.

When I think of the books that were missing from my teen years, I think of Suma. I read every ghost story I could get my hands on, from middle grade to adult reading—but even the most literary adult books never quite captured the liminal state between girlhood and womanhood the way that Suma can. She has a talent for making the reader feel as though they’re on the brink of a major discovery, then calmly moves on. The answers are yours to interpret and decide if they matter to you, which is frustratingly, heartbreakingly real.

Bonus Factors: Boarding House

Like boarding school, the idea of a boarding house will get me every time. Stick a bunch of young women in close quarters (in this case, in a creepy brick building that time forgot), and you’ll have a story. The conflicts of sharing so much space and staking out an identity separate from the group at large will forever be one of my favorite tropes in fiction.

Bonus Factor: Wicked Stepsisters

Bina’s stepsisters are really pieces of work, and the perfect counterparts for Bina’s strangely unemotional fractured fairy tale. Actual wicked stepsisters!

Bonus Factor: New York City

NYC is a haunted city, like any dwelling space that has been around for hundreds of years. The magic is how the old exists alongside the new, giving us silent clues as to who walked the streets before we did. You can desperately search for answers, as Bina does with her mother’s Catherine House legacy, or you can move on to the next shiny glass tower, but ghosts turn up in the most unexpected places.

Relationship Status: A Thief In The Night

This has been one of my favorite book dates in a long time. Our time together was filled with nuance and challenge, but not the pretentious kind, like a dating profile that includes the word “sapiosexual” and lists favorite books like Infinite Jest or something by Ayn Rand. As with any good date, I wanted to rewind time right after the goodnight kiss and do it all over again. Luckily for us all, we can.

Jennie Kendrick lives in San Francisco and has an excessive fondness of historical fiction, spreadsheets, turquoise sparkly things, and bourbon. She is also a literary agent. When she’s not reading, writing, or writing about reading, she cooks obsessively, goes to loud rock concerts, and thrifts for vintage everything.