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Circle Nine

Circle Nine

4.0 3
by Anne Heltzel

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Who was Abby then? Who is Abby now? An unsettling psychological thriller, seen through a lost girl's eyes.

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


Who was Abby then? Who is Abby now? An unsettling psychological thriller, seen through a lost girl's eyes.

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 cavepalace, 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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Abby has no clear memory of her life before Sam, with whom she lives in a cave that usually seems like a "palace." There, he reads Dante's Inferno to her and warns her that the outside world is Circle Nine, the worst part of hell. He assures Abby that she is safe, but she sees momentary flashes of their luxurious lair "strewn with garbage and threadbare blankets and stained sheets." There are other mysteries, too: Abby sketches a girl repeatedly, dreams of her, and gains new memories; eventually she ventures out into Circle Nine to discover her painful past. Readers will race through the first part of this imaginative psychological drama, trying to determine what is real and why Abby's memory is so damaged, though the story's intrigue lessens after the mystery is revealed. Still, debut author Heltzel layers her story with questions about guilt, identity, and survival, leading to Abby's insight that "you can never just have good or bad, one or the other. They're both there, all the time, in Circle Nine or in my head." Despite the story's darkness, the conclusion points to a hopeful path forward for Abby. Ages 14–up. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
An ideal adult crossover book.

With explorations of addiction, homelessness, and abuse, this book touches on some of society’s weightiest issues. This is a title for teens who like their fiction serious and gritty.
—School Library Journal

Children's Literature - Pamela Barr Lichty
Who is Abby? How did she come to live in a sumptuously decorated cave with the solicitous and gentlemanly Sam? Heltzel presents a gritty tale of guilt that will capture older teens that discover Dante's Inferno in the drugs, abandonment, and grief of the narrative. Often painful to read, the story moves Abby through nearly three months with Sam, whose illness and deterioration finally force her to realize the grim reality of their dwelling and their relationship. As her memory returns, readers will share Abby's recognition and despair as she remembers the mystery girl she has persistently drawn. A hopeful ending moves Abby to Purgartorio and Pardisus and, perhaps, a healing future.
VOYA - Cynthia Winfield
Abby's world is wholly built around Sam, whose drug dependence makes him sick in the absence of his "medicine" and whose lies entirely shape Abby's beliefs. Her trust and reliance are total, allowing her to experience "reality" as Sam presents it, to the point of seeing an opulent castle and tasting culinary delights while living in a dank, filthy cave surviving on scraps scavenged from Dumpsters. The community beyond their small world is, according to Sam, part of Dante's ninth circle of hell and should be entirely avoided. Confused by her lack of memory, Abby struggles through searing headaches to find the self she has buried so deeply following a traumatic event. Billed as a psychological thriller, Heltzel's carefully-rendered first novel is built upon a character in a dissociative fugue following the traumatic experience of surviving the house fire that killed her family. The extreme nature of Abby's distorted perceptions alerts readers to her psychological instability from the outset, making the diagnosis delivered during psychotherapy unsurprising to savvy readers, although it clarifies lingering questions about how Abby could allow herself to be so totally deluded. Readers who find Abby's early submissiveness too distasteful may abandon their reading and miss the author's intention; for that reason, the book would work well as supplementary reading for psychology, social studies, or literature courses in high schools or junior colleges. This reader was hard pressed to continue past the opening chapters initially but then found it engrossing when reread as a psychological portrait. Reviewer: Cynthia Winfield
Kirkus Reviews
A sad and slow-moving meditation on secrets, lies, identity and fate.

Abby lives in a lavishly decorated secret cave in the woods, doted on by the handsome and mysterious Sam. She's free to sketch all day, losing herself in her artwork, mythology and the classic literature Sam loves to read aloud. She wonders about her life before she met Sam, but the details are too fuzzy to pin down, and everything seems perfect as she basks in the glow of Sam's affection and care. Leaving their snug hideaway to uncover the truth is out of the question, anyway, because Sam fears Abby will be attacked by the evil denizens of the world outside, which he's dubbed Circle Nine, after Dante's most intimidating Circle of Hell. His reasoning doesn't hold up: Abby notes that Sam leaves the cave to get "medicine" from his "doctor," Sid, while Amanda, another Circle Nine resident, turns up to live in the cave, too. Amanda makes Abby question her perceptions of the cave, the food they eat, even Sam's motivations. Astute readers will have sussed out most of Sam's problems and Abby's past well before her memories trickle, then surge back, eliminating the urgency and suspense essential to any psychological thriller's success.

Abby and Sam's tragic story is better suited to tearjerker fans than die-hard thriller readers. (Mystery. 14 & up)

School Library Journal
Gr 10 Up—A teen wakes up next to a flaming building, her lungs burning, her head throbbing, and she can't remember who she is. The boy who rescues her tells her that her name is Abby and his is Sam. He seems surprised that she can't remember that they're friends and he promises he'll take care of her; she goes with him to live in an abandoned mine shaft in the woods because she feels she has no other choice. Thus begins this psychological drama told from Abby's perspective. She exists in a fugue. Sam controls her, keeping her safe from the outside world or, as they call it, Circle Nine. She believes she is happy and in love with him. But when Sam brings another girl into their home, Abby begins to questions his loyalty. As he gets sicker and sicker without what he calls his "medicine," Abby remembers elements of her past and finds that she must leave the cave to help herself and him. She ultimately draws on her inner strength to cope with her tragic life. Though readers may be puzzled by the writing style—italics are used instead of quotes and the prose is constrained—if they forge ahead they will soon be engrossed in the mystery and suspense. With explorations of addiction, homelessness, and abuse, this book touches on some of society's weightiest issues. This is a title for teens who like their fiction serious and gritty.—Mindy Whipple, West Jordan Library, UT

Product Details

Candlewick Press
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)
HL710L (what's this?)
Age Range:
14 Years

Meet the Author

Anne Heltzel earned an MFA in creative writing from the New School. She says of her debut novel: "I wrote Circle Nine shortly after moving to Mumbai, India, where I lived for a year and a half. It was a surreal and isolating experience at first, giving up my job and friends to move to a country I'd never even seen before. Nevertheless, the magic of the city was ever-present; my reality had, in a sense, changed entirely. This all contributed to the creation of Sam and Abby's cave-palace." Anne Heltzel lives in New York City.

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Circle Nine 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
iheartyabooks More than 1 year ago
This is not an easy review for me. When a story deals with abusive relationships, I normally don't read them. Books with sexual abuse or drug addiction usually a hard read for me. But this book was on my new release list, so I said I'd give it try. I'm so glad I did. I really did fall in love with the story between Sam and Abby. I would have liked to have known more of what happened to Sam, seen more of a resolution for him. Sam really grabbed a hold of my heart and I couldn't let him go. The choices he made took him down a road he could never return from, but I still thought of him as messed-up little boy that I wanted to love and fix. I was, however, happy to see that Abby's terrifying experience made her a better person from where she first started in this story. Anne Heltzel has an amazing way of writing about a subject I have a difficult have a hard time reading about. This is a very serious and dramatic situation between Sam and Abby, so be ready with the tissue box. I will definitely be reading more of Anne Heltzel's books. Circle Nine is an amazing story and a definite must read!!
Jordan-Bankes More than 1 year ago
This story is a tragic narrative about trust and how you can never fully trust anyone but yourself in life. Circle Nine is exhilarating with its complex main character who sees only what she wants. The story is a bit creepy and daunting but its fun at the same time! I had a remarkable experience while reading it and felt everything that the main character did! I say read this story!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was depressing. Definitely not what I expected. Not a bad read but much more serious than what I normally like.