Author: Anne Heltzel
Published: September 13, 2011
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Thriller
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.
Abby can't remember anything. When she wakes, she doesn't know where she is, who she is, or what is happening, but there is a fire, and she has to escape. The only person around to help her is Sam. She doesn't know who he is, but he says he can help her, and she feels as though she can trust him, so she does. The pair begin a life together in what Sam calls a cave-palace - a world central to the two of them alone, with the world outside called Circle Nine. Abby can't remember anything though, and her dark, blank past is edging into her deliriously simple life. When the fragments of memories begin flooding back, the darkness begins to consume her life, and she realizes that Sam, her life and all her surroundings are false...but is she strong enough to escape them, or will her past consume her future, too?
I rarely read a book that leaves me so completely speechless that I'm unable to post a review on the day I'd planned, but Circle Nine has presented that to me. Anne Heltzel has spun an equal-parts mesmerizing and horrific psychological thriller with Circle Nine that grips the reader with talon-like prose from start to finish. Calling such a book simply "horror" or "contemporary" would be a crime because Circle Nine manages to merge the genres into one potent, powerful and hard-hitting book that is sure to affect every reader in a different way. With a voice that's achingly raw and ravaged, Circle Nine still has me in its grip long after I've finished it.
I cannot say that I loved Circle Nine because to say I loved it would mean that I completely missed the story of Abby altogether. I loved the writing, I loved the power behind every word and I loved that every action and inaction in Circle Nine had a purpose. That said, there was so much about Circle Nine that made me angry, frightened and hollow, too. Abby's world was written in an almost dreamlike state from her first-person perspective, making it that much more tangible, so when it began to crumble around her in a world of sexual and emotional abuse, the reader is strung along as Abby endures and struggles to survive in a world that's ravaged and without a past. We don't watch her world crumble around her; we live it with her, and as it spirals into that ninth circle of hell, we long for relief, too. Sam was a character that I loathed (and for good reason), and yet from Abby's perspective, there was a part of me that wanted to find that child within him and set him free, too. That, and all the conflicting emotions I felt, is what made Circle Nine such a powerful and tumultuous read.
Circle Nine is not for the faint of heart, but if you want to read an incredibly powerful read, this is the book for you. The only thing that left me unsatisfied was the ending, but that's just my desire for a true sense of closure, and all I felt was an unsteady calm. I give this book a 4 out of 5, and I'd highly recommend it to fans of upper YA and adult books, especially those who enjoy dark contemporary fiction and psychological thrillers.
I received this book free of charge from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This, in no way, affected my opinion or review of this book.