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10th Grade202432 Stories4th of July99 DaysA Change in AltitudeA Demon in My ViewA Dream of WolvesA Falling KnifeA Finely Tuned Apathy MachineA Heart of StoneA Life Lived RidiculouslyA Multitude of SinsA Parting GiftA Question of BloodA Quiet PlaceA Red Heart of MemoriesA River SutraA Short History of Tractors in UkrainianA Slight Trick of the MindA Stir of BonesA Thousand Miles from NowhereA Voyage Long and StrangeA Wedding in December About a BoyAbraham LincolnAcross the River and Into the TreesActs of GodActs of InfidelityAfrican PsychoAfter DarkAfter YouAfter You'd GoneAfterwardsAgenda for MurderAliens in the Prime of Their LivesAll Alone in the UniverseAll Families Are PsychoticAll in the MindAll the Way HomeAltered LandAlternatives to SexAmanda's WeddingAmelia RulesAmericaAmerica AmericaAmnesiaAmong the DepartedAn Object of BeautyAngelsAngry Youth Comix #2AnimosityAnne SextonAre You Experienced?Aristotle and Poetic JusticeAristotle DetectiveArlington ParkArtemis FowlAs Hot as It Was You Ought to Thank MeAsking For MurderAsymmetryAtonementAway Laughing on a Fast CamelBabylon and Other StoriesBad BoyBad SeedBag Of BonesBalancing ActsBarbara the Slut and Other PeopleBeach RoadBeat the ReaperBeautiful GirlsBed of RosesBefore I Go to SleepBefore the FrostBeg the QuestionBeginner's GreekBellyBeneath the SkinBenedictionBest New American VoicesBig BrotherBilly and GirlBiteBlack & WhiteBlack HelicoptersBlack Market TruthBlameBlanketsBleed for MeBlind SightBlonde FaithBlood, Salt, WaterBlueprints for Building Better GirlsBody SurfingBoneMan's DaughtersBoneyardBoneyardBoomsdayBorder CrossingBoth Ways Is the Only Way I Want ItBoysBracketBrain TrustBrava, ValentineBreaking Out of BedlamBreathing UnderwaterBrick LaneBridge of SighsBridget JonesBridget Jones's DiaryBrief Interviews with Hideous MenBring Them HomeBruisesBrŁselBullyBurn, Bitchy, BurnButterflyBy BloodBy The Sea ShoreCalled to KillCanadaCanvasCaricatureCase HistoriesCellCemetery DanceChange of HeartChangesChasing the DimeChild 44Cinema PanopticumCinnamon KissCirceCircle NineCity of the LostClay's WayClose toYouClose Your EyesCloud 9 AffairCoincidenceCold CaseCold HitCold in HandCollected StoriesCome Up and See Me SometimeComfort and JoyCompulsionConfessions of a ShopaholicConfessions of an Ex-GirlfriendConsider LoveCouch FictionCrispinCross CountryCruddyCrumpleCutCypherDaddy's GirlsDakotaDamageDancing After HoursDanger in High PlacesDanger! 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CornersFred the ClownFrom Girls to GrrlzFull DisclosureGallatin CanyonGaudi AfternoonGenerosityGeorgia Under WaterGhost at the WindowGiftedGiganticGirl in TranslationGirl Walking BackwardsGirls Closed InGirls Like UsGod HeadGod Is DeadGod Is Not OneGods and BeastsGoldengroveGone GirlGood and GoneGood GriefGrace, Tamar and Laszlo the BeautifulGuises of DesireHalf In Love With DeathHappiness Sold SeparatelyHappy FamilyHappy Mutant Baby PillsHappy Now?HarleyHarry Potter and the Sorcererís StoneHe Counts Their TearsHeartbeatHeftHell's IslandHey, Wait...High HeatHolidays On IceHope in a JarHot MilkHotel on the Corner of Bitter and SweetHotel WorldHotels of North AmericaHouse of JavaHow a Gunman Says GoodbyeHow People ChangeHow to Be GoodHow to Set a Fire and WhyHow to Stop TimeHug MeI Can See YouI Don't Know How She Does ItI'd Know You AnywhereI'm Traveling AloneIf I Fall, If I DieIf You StayImagine Me GoneImposter for HireIn ZanesvilleInfinite JestIngloriousInnocentInnocent WorldInnocentsInspired SleepInvisibleIronshoreIs This What Other Women Feel Too?It Takes OneIt's Love We Don't UnderstandIt's Not Me, It's YouJacob Have I LovedJimmy CorriganJohn Dies at the EndJournal d'une femme adultŤreJust LifeKhalifahKick the Animal OutKicking the SkyKim: Empty InsideKisscutKissing DoorknobsKissing in AmericaKnife CreekKnockout MouseLambLast Chance SaloonLast NightLaura Numeroff's 10-Step Guide to Living with Your MonsterLawnboyLayoverLeft NeglectedLeisureLeo the Lightning BugLeslie's JournalLet Me Be Frank With YouLie to MeLies My Girlfriend Told MeLife After LifeLife ClassLife Is a Strange PlaceLife of PiLike the Red PandaLike You'd Understand, AnywayLikely to DieLillian in LoveLisa, Bright and DarkLisey's StoryListen to the SilenceLithium for MedeaLittle Black LiesLittle ChildrenLittle LitLittle ScarletLiíl SantaLonerLord of the FliesLosing JuliaLostLost GirlLost in the ForestLost Memory of SkinLove and Shame and LoveLove in the AsylumLove Songs for the Shy and 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Circle Nine is a young adult novel that is difficult to read, both literally and emotionally.
A girl wakes up in an alley near a burning house. Her clothes are stained with soot. She can't remember who she is or where she is. But a boy is with her, and he urges her to come away with him. When she says she doesn't remember him, he tells her he is her friend, Sam. He fingers a gold necklace she's wearing that identifies her as Abby. She follows him into the woods, away from the burning house, to a cave where he lives.
She awakens in the cave the next morning, still with no memory of who she is: "when the brain is empty, I suppose it must create its own truth" (p. 13). And that is exactly what her brain does. In the language of exotic fairy tales, she describes their cave as a lush palace, a paradise where she, feeling like Snow White, lives with Sam, her prince. Sam reads to her from Dante's Inferno about the horrors of circle nine to underscore the difference between their paradise inside the cave and the hideous, corrupt world outside.
The reader is thrown into this surreal world along with Abby, who continues the first-person narration of her experiences. In Part One of the novel, labeled "Sleeping," Abby maintains the predominant description of their life as a wonderful dream. But soon she begins to have headaches, nightmares, and flashes of memory that gradually increase in frequency and intensity, interrupting her idyllic existence with phantasmagorical images. As her memories return, her relationship with Sam begins to deteriorate as he becomes sicker and sicker. Author Anne Heltzel has set herself a difficult task here: She must create a narrative that conveys Abby's embellishments on reality but that simultaneously allows the reader to see through those embellishments to what is actually going on. Heltzel manages this task well. For example, what Abby describes as Sam's sickness the reader readily recognizes as the withdrawal symptoms of a drug addict. And what this drug addict is willing to do to get the "medicine" he needs is a painful realization that the reader reaches long before Abby does. The short chapters that make up this section of the novel count down from "fourteen weeks before," when Abby awoke next to the burning house, to the pivotal event of "that night," when she is finally able to run away and leave Sam as the police arrive to arrest him for breaking into a liquor store. "I save myself," she says (p. 183).
In Part Two, "Waking," Abby describes what happens after her break from Sam. Hunters find her in the woods and take her to a shelter, where a therapist tells her that she probably experienced dissociative fugue. The shelter will allow her to stay for 30 days, and she uses that time to do research in the local library to supplement her fragments of memory. She learns that her first name is Addison: Addy, not Abby. And she remembers that her older sister, Katie, had stolen a necklace with her own name on it for herself and one with Abby, the closest thing to Addy, for her. In this coming-of-age story Abby has to face some ugly truths. First, she is presumed to have died, along with her parents and sister, in a house fire that she knows she was at least partly responsible for. Second, she must acknowledge that Katie, whom she idolized for her easy way with people, was really a liar, a thief, and a sneak.
Despite the painful lessons that this seventeen-year-old girl must learn, the book ends on an upbeat note. She buys a bus ticket to take her as far away as possible from the area where people might recognize her and connect her with the news story of the house fire. But before she climbs onto that bus, she obtains a copy of Purgatorio, the second part of Dante's Divine Comedy, the three-part story of the soul's journey toward God. She emphasizes that she did not steal the book but rather traded Sam's copy of Inferno for it. With this action she both asserts her identity as different from her thieving sister and places herself on her own journey toward heaven and redemption.
© 2012 by Mary Daniels Brown
Mary Daniels Brown completed the coursework for a doctorate in English and American literature before shifting gears and receiving her doctorate in psychology from Saybrook University. She regularly writes and blogs about books and reading at Notes in the Margin: http://notesinthemargin.org