Sunday, August 21, 2011

Review: Circle Nine by Anne Heltzel

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. (summary from Goodreads)

Circle Nine is a mystery that will keep you guessing right to the end and unable to stop reading until you get there!

Right from the beginning readers know that all is not well in Abby's world. What she thought was a perfect life has been revealed as a lie, and in the centre of it is Sam, the only person Abby thought she knew and could trust. Fourteen weeks ago Abby woke up in the middle of a street with no memory, a house burning near her and the face of an angel peering down at her. His name is Sam and he takes her to a beautiful palace hidden in a cave where he loves and protects her. He tells her the outside world is terrifying and unsafe, and Abby trusts his word, never once questioning him. But as the time passes, slowly things begin to change. Sam's behaviour deteriorates as he is unable to procure his Medicine. Abby sees flashes of dirt and decay where once there was beauty and cleanliness. The face of an unknown girl haunts Abby and pushes her to piece together the truth. What Abby finds will shatter everything she believes and change her life forever.

I wasn't sure what to expect going in to Circle Nine. The summary intrigued me, but I'd read reviews where the reader felt confused by it's plot. I'm glad I decided to read it though as I really enjoyed it. Heltzel has created one tension filled story and once I started reading I didn't move until I'd finished it. She weaves a fine mystery, giving readers just enough to make them think and want more, but not enough to ease the suspense and spoil the reveal. Much of the truth is in fact quite clear; instead it is the how of it all - how Abby and Sam came to be - that makes up the mystery. By the end I thought I'd had it figured out, but I'm pleased to say I was wrong. Not too far off though, and that made it all the more surprising. I'm trying not to give anything away, so I do hope this all still makes sense! This may be one of the more disjointed reviews I write.

While I couldn't quite connect with or relate to Abby, I did feel for her. That didn't stop me from wanting to shake some sense into her though! Sometimes it frustrated me how easily she accepted Sam and what he told her. As I'd started to piece together the truth before her, I was on the edge of my seat through most of the book waiting, and begging, for her to open her eyes and see! Then when she did my heart broke for her. As for Sam, I never once liked or trusted him, just as we are never meant to. Well, I certainly hope we were never meant to! His secrets were all too obvious, and boy did they make me mad.

Heltzel created a fine line between the real world and Abby's fantasy world, even though they were shockingly distinct from one another. The food sticks with me even now, as does her introduction to Sid. Told from Abby's point of view, I can see where it might have been confusing, as she herself couldn't make sense of it. For me though it built the tension of the whole story, much like the mystery. I simply needed to know the answers and refused to stop reading until I had them. It's hard to write that I enjoyed this book when so much of it was shocking, even sickening. Major kudos to Heltzel. It all balances on a fine line, that's for sure, but I for one think she mastered it.

My only complaint would be that I am seriously unhappy with the ending. It's left very open, and as such, is meant to be hopeful. Now, I may simply be too pessimistic here, but I just don't believe in that hope and so it left me frustrated. I'm interested to read what others thought, as I'm not usually pessimistic! I do try to see the good, but here I couldn't quite get there.

Overall, Circle Nine is an intriguing and shocking mystery that will keep you questioning everything until Heltzel is ready to reveal her secrets. She certainly hooked me!


Publisher: Candlewick Press
Published date: 13 September 2011
Pages: 260
Format: e-Galley

Many thanks to Candlewick and NetGalley!

Challenge: 2011 Debut Author Challenge; 2011 YA Contemporary Challenge


  1. You have a fabulous blog! I’m an author and illustrator and I made some awards to give to fellow bloggers whose sites I enjoy. It’s not a pass on award. This is just for you to keep. I want to award you with the Best Books Blog Award for all the hard work you do!

    Go to and pick up your award.

  2. @Deirdra Eden-Coppel Wow, Deirdra, thank you so much for your support and kind words! It means a lot...I'm a little stunned! :-D