Title: Circle 9
Author: Anne Heltzel
Published: September 2011
By: Candlewick Press
First line: The rain falls around me in torrents, flowing from the mouth of the cave above us to the ground by my feet like a waterfall, splashing up at my toes.
Last Line: But for now, I’ll just sit on this bus, and I’ll watch the Vermont mountains rush by, and I’ll dream.
Favourite Line: My life with Sam is a rich tapestry, better than any dream state. My dreams are cursed.
I’ve taken a while to think about the review that I wanted to write for this book because the subject matter is at times much darker and reads more like a psychological thriller than your typical YA fiction.
The story begins with Abby, a young girl who finds herself regaining consciousness in mysterious circumstances. Lying next to the remains of a burning building and having completely lost her memory she is helped by Sam, a teenage boy who she cannot remember even thought he claims to know her. Sam takes her back to his home which turns out to be a cave which exists far away from the relative dangers of Circle Nine, an area which, he tells Abby is not to be trusted. Within no time she has adopted him as her angel and the two appear to be completely smitten with each other. For the first part of the book their lives together are seemingly idyllic. They live in the opulently decorated cave which Abby describes as being like paradise whilst Sam adopts the role of Abby’s protector, he feeds her, reads to her and cares for her every whim whilst she in turn is in absolute awe of him. They are the cutest of couples.
Within in a few weeks however things begin to fall apart. A darker side to Sam begins to emerge which leaves you feeling on-edge permanently. At the same time Abby is desperately trying to put the random flashbacks she is experiencing into some kind of order as she tries to piece together her previous life. As her memory starts to return so her situation becomes increasingly ominous. You begin to realise that the world that Abby sees herself in is not quite as heavenly as it first appeared and the brief inclusion of two other characters namely Sid and Amanda only go support your suspicions further. By the end of the book when Abby’s memory does return we find that her earlier life and the way that it ended was far more traumatic than was anticipated. Her journey back to reality is a harrowing one and we, the reader, get to experience every detail with her. You find yourself praying for resolution not just for her but also for Sam. It was Sam’s character that left me most torn. You see his dark side (and when it reveals itself it really is quite sinister) but then you also see the remorse and you end up hoping that he too can find some kind of peace.
There are aspects to this book that are incredibly dark that touch on sensitive issues and for that reason I wouldn’t recommend this book to younger YA readers. That said,the darker content is also what makes the book. Abby’s story would not have had the impact that it did on me were it not for the way that it was detailed. I have to say I love the way that Anne Heltzel writes. The beginning of the relationship between Sam and Abby is very romantic and the language she uses is so rich and warm that it makes your heart melt. I found that I carried that same warmth for the characters with me even when they were at their worst because I felt as though I knew how they had gotten to that point and I could still see the good inside them. If I could have found them and rescued them I would have! The twists and turns in the plot had me gripped from start to finish. I was a tad frustrated by the ending when I first read it. As much as I enjoy being able to add my own twist to the end of a plotline I felt as though there were some areas (well one, but I shan’t give the game away here) where I needed just a bit more detail. I guess though that could also be the point of such an ending, that is, the reader is left to imagine what happens next.
For anyone who enjoy darker fiction or thrillers this is a must read. I look forward to seeing what Anne Heltzel produces next.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5. I would absolutely recommend this book. I found it to be a challenging read at times. It is not all hearts and flowers by any stretch of the imagination but it is thought provoking and a gripping read from start to finish.