Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle's John Leonard Prize / Longlisted for The Center for Fiction's First Novel Prize / Belletrist Book Club / Barnes & Noble Spring 2017 Discover Pick / April Indie Next Pick / Book of the Month Club / The Rumpus Book Club / NYLON Book Club
An electric debut novel about love, addiction, and loss; the story of two girls and the feral year that will cost one her life, and define the other’s for decades
Everything about fifteen-year-old Cat’s new town in rural Michigan is lonely and off-kilter, until she meets her neighbor, the manic, beautiful, pill-popping Marlena. Cat, inexperienced and desperate for connection, is quickly lured into Marlena’s orbit by little more than an arched eyebrow and a shake of white-blond hair. As the two girls turn the untamed landscape of their desolate small town into a kind of playground, Cat catalogues a litany of firsts—first drink, first cigarette, first kiss—while Marlena’s habits harden and calcify. Within the year, Marlena is dead, drowned in six inches of icy water in the woods nearby. Now, decades later, when a ghost from that pivotal year surfaces unexpectedly, Cat must try to forgive herself and move on, even as the memory of Marlena keeps her tangled in the past.
Alive with an urgent, unshakable tenderness, Julie Buntin’s Marlena is an unforgettable look at the people who shape us beyond reason and the ways it might be possible to pull oneself back from the brink.
PRAISE FOR MARLENA
“The gifted young writer Julie Buntin has written a novel of deep and exquisite intelligence, humor, and riveting sensitivity. A terrific debut.”–Lorrie Moore
“Julie Buntin captures that unique moment at the precipice of adulthood with emotional honesty and insight. She writes the kind of piercing, revelatory sentences you have to read to whomever is near, sentences you find yourself remembering years later.”–Jonathan Safran Foer
"Marlena is absolutely lacerating. The most accurate portrait I’ve read about angst, lust, boredom, and the blindness of youth. It isn’t merely a friendship chronicle, nor is it a profile of a doomed, beautiful girl. It’s the story of a haunting, about the ghosts that never release us and continue to define us. Julie Buntin’s command of her craft is so flawless you forget that it’s fiction. I binge-read Marlena - sick to my stomach, with equal parts fear and nostalgia- stunned that any of us made it out of our adolescence alive." –Stephanie Danler, author of Sweetbitter
"The true magic of Julie Buntin is she writes stories that feel like your own. This gorgeous, assured debut captures the romance of young friendship, cutting deep with the finest touch."–Julia Pierpont, author of Among the Ten Thousand Things
"Marlena slayed me. Gorgeously written, with a sense of place so perfect I didn't even have to close my eyes to pretend I was there, this novel is rich and sensuous and beautifully conceived. Buntin writes about the all-consuming bond between teenage girls with urgency and suspense and despair. I loved every word."–Anton DiSclafani, bestselling author of The After Party and The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls
"In Marlena, Julie Buntin revitalizes a classic story making it all her own with sensuous, vibrant prose and a narrator who feels deeply even as she feints certain painful truths about herself. In these pages I not only saw my own story, I came to understand it better. Many readers will too. This is a fierce and gorgeous debut."–Edan Lepucki, bestselling author of California