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Review: “Circle 9″ by Anne Heltzel

by on September 13, 2011

Hi, nerds! Hope you’re all doing well and so on and so on. Let’s get to business! I’ve got another new writer you might like and her name is Anne Heltzel. Circle 9 is her first book and, holy cheeseballs — it’s a doozy.

Let me preface this review by saying Circle 9 is NOT light reading. It’s also not a sci-fi work, as the title might lead you to believe. The story is laced with psychological trauma on top of some serious abuse and — well, like I said, it’s not a light read and it’s definitely not easy. If you stick to it and realize that you’re not reading a run-of-the-mill Young Adult coming of age sort of novel, you will be monumentally rewarded.

She knows only Sam, a mysterious teenage boy. He is her sole companion; her whole life. She was born, already a teenager, lying outside a burning building in soot-stained clothes, remembering nothing, not even her name. He showed her the necklace she had on, the one that named her: Abby. Sam brought her to live in his cave-palace, where he gives her everything she needs. He loves her. He protects her from the world outside, from everyone who wants to hurt them, like the denizens of Circle Nine, Dante’s deepest circle of hell. But even in a charmed, brand-new life like Abby’s, change will come. Sam falls ill. A new girl comes to stay, and Abby begins to question Sam’s devotion. With doubt comes emotional turmoil, changes in perception, and glimpses of her past identity. In this courageous psychological thriller, Abby tells the story of living her new life and discovering her old one, while grappling with an ever-changing reality.

The book starts strong and, assuming you can find the right frame of mind, it doesn’t disappoint. It’s definitely one of the more unusual psychologically thrilling novels I’ve read and I mean that from a completely praise-worthy standpoint. This is so fresh and different in an entirely good way, it’s almost hard to comprehend at first.

We begin the story as Abby wakes, completely disoriented and trying to piece her life back together after suffering from an almost complete loss of memory. It’s written in the kind of first person stream-of-consciousness I usually hate with the passion of a thousand dying suns. (Suns have passion, right?) Why do I hate it, you ask? Because I just do. Don’t ask me again.  Fortunately, this is one of the rare instances where I literally cannot imagine this story being written or told any other way. It works. We experience Abby’s confusion with her, are kept in the dark as long as she is, and each new revelation spurs you to keep reading long after your bed time. If you’re the type of person who can dive headlong into a piece of emotional fiction, PICK THIS UP! You grow with Abby, learn with her, figure out who/what/where the problem is leading, and the end? Maddeningly perfect.

Now, I’m not saying Circle 9 is for everybody. I actually read the book twice because the first go-through left me slightly confused about the whole thing. The second time was better, picking through the often irritatingly passive ways Abby reacts to situations and trying to understand these characters from a different perspective. I find it almost hard to believe that this is classified as young adult, but I suppose that’s what happens when your characters are young.

Heltzel’s pace is steady, the writing is strong — it’s just an overall good book. I’ve heard that there has been a lot of strong praise and a lot of resounding boos for it. The thing about mixed reviews in this case is that there are REALLY strong opinions on both sides, which is always exciting (maybe not for the writer…) but sometimes hard to navigate without reading the work for yourself. Because of the touchy subjects Heltzel tackles, I think it’s completely understandable that people are divided, but I would say this to you, as I would about any other work: FORM YOUR OWN OPINIONS.  This won’t be for everybody who picks it up. It’s intense, it’s emotional and it’s a really good ride as long as you’re willing to get on board!

Circle 9 is the kind of work from a brand new author that makes you wonder what she’ll come out with next. Keep your eye out, kids! Anne Heltzel will have an amazing writing career ahead of her, mark my words! Keep up with her on the twitters or Facebook if you’re interested, why not?

As usual, you can email me at [email protected], catch me on Twitter or comment here if you’ve got something of your own you want checked out or if you have super nice things to say. Nice things are the best. Happy reading in the meantime, nerdlings!