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3.69  ·  Rating details ·  13,014 ratings  ·  1,608 reviews
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 connectio
Hardcover, 274 pages
Published April 4th 2017 by Henry Holt and Co.
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Average rating 3.69  · 
Rating details
 ·  13,014 ratings  ·  1,608 reviews

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Emily May
Mar 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: contemporary, 2017, botm
Normally I start my reviews with a quote; a nice little taster of what to expect. But with Marlena it was impossible to isolate just a sentence or two. I copied down whole paragraphs that became extracts until it felt like I would be quoting the entire book. I kept thinking I was done and then realizing the next sentence was equally poignant. If you want something, I'll give you this:
I’ve never believed in the innocent bystander. The act of watching changes what happens. Just because you don’
Adam Dalva
Apr 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Extraordinarily well-written book that tells the story of a doomed friendship between teenage girls. Shades of WHO WILL RUN THE FROG HOSPITAL? (less funny but significantly more wrenching and therefore better), the Neapolitan Novels, and, in its examination of the opoid crisis and resolutely mid-western focus, a contemporary Marilyn Robinson.

The frame narrative here is smart - we get the story in flashback, as Cat, the lead, struggles with alcoholism (very believable and smartly depicted) as she
Always Pouting
Mar 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Ok so I kept seeing everyone talking about netgalley and I am such an unrestrained glutton for books that I was obviously had to sign up to get to read books for free early, and so this was the first book I requested, so yay free books.

Anyway I personally thought that though the idea and general story was interesting and had potential, but that the storyline itself was sort of sloppy. The transitioning between different points in time wasn't always clear and memories would just flow from one in
Review of Marlena
A poem by Matthew McLean

Because of a book club, I did read you
To join in discussion, I did need you
A librarian did recommend
On whose word I did depend
Stream of consciousness I did find
Through repetitious pages I did grind
So-so and unlikable characters I did meet
Drugs, alcohol, and sex did compete
Coming of age was the theme
Loss of innocence to the extreme
Some would say the genre is Young Adult
Because of teens in revolt
But if a teen decided to read
Some attention they might
Larry H
Feb 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
If you're a fan of The Wallflowers' music, maybe you'll find yourself singing this song while reading Julie Buntin's Marlena : (Not because of any particular plot point or because the lyrics are symbolic, just because there is a Marlena in the book and one, two, three Marlenas in the song. I'm deep like that.)

"Sometimes I feel like she is my invention. Like the more I say, the further from the truth of her I get. I'm trying to hold palmfuls of sand but I squeeze
Suzanne Leopold (Suzy Approved Book Reviews)
Cat and her brother Jimmy relocate with their mother to a rural town in Northern Michigan. With her parents recent divorce she is no longer able to attend her private boarding school. She feels very isolated living away from the support of her father and friends.

After the move, a friendship develops between Cat and her new neighbor Marlena. Cat is fifteen, impressionable and has lived a sheltered life. Marlena is streetwise and was raised by her drug dealing father and brother. Marlena’s enviro
Charlotte May
"I want to go back. But back where? To the moment before I tasted alcohol, to virginity and not really knowing that things die, back to believing that something great is still up ahead, back to before I made the choices that would hem me in to the life I live now. A life that I regret sometimes, I think, only because it's mine, because it's turned out this way and not some other way, because I can't go back and change what will happen. What happened to her."

This was dark. Reeeeeeeally dark. Ca
Diane S ☔
Apr 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
'3.5 Cat is in her thirties, has a drinking problem and is trying to save a valued relationship, when she receives a phone call from someone she hasn't seen since he was a child. This takes her back to when she was fifteen, her parents divorced, moved to a new town in rural Michigan with her mom and older brother, worried about fitting in this new life. One night she meets her next door neighbor, Marlena, seventeen and she is so different, seemingly full of life, exciting and against all odds th ...more
Mar 29, 2017 rated it it was ok
I certainly love a story about an intoxicating female friendship, those that venture into coming-of-age territory. Books where a friendship maybe causes a young girl to go completely off the tracks. I enjoy the psychology of it. This one does the thing I enjoyed most about The Girls by: Emma Cline, which is include the use of a retrospective narrator. The thing is...that one did this so much better.

What is fascinating is how you know the narrator is deeply affected by this time of their youth.
Jul 03, 2018 rated it liked it
Have you ever read a book where you found yourself reading the beginning over and over again, but not in a good way? I started and stopped this book so many times when I initially picked it up. I really, really struggled with getting into this book. I read three other books while I struggled with the beginning of this book. Once I found my footing, so to speak, I was able to finish the book without any other issues with reading it.

“The people we surround ourselves with either raise or lower our
I managed to miss Marlena when it first came out last year; luckily, I had another chance at reading it when it was released in paperback a couple of months ago. It bears some thematic similarities to Emma Cline’s The Girls, Rosalie Knecht’s Relief Map, Andrée Michaud’s The Last Summer, Julianne Pachico’s The Lucky Ones and especially Emily Fridlund’s History of Wolves, but Marlena is a cut above. It’s basically a flawless debut, one I can’t recommend too highly. Occasionally I weary of writing ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I don't think I would have picked this book up if it weren't for the Tournament of Books Summer Reading. The cover is not super striking, for one thing.

But it starts strong and keeps going. You know in the first few pages that Marlena died and that the narrator, Cat, is still deeply effected as an adult. Chapters move between the 1990s in rural Michigan, where Cat moves in next to Marlena at age 15, and present day New York, where she has been contacted by Marlena's kid brother. The narrator ha
Carol (Bookaria)
May 08, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2017, fiction
The book describes the friendship between teenagers Cat and Marlena. Cat has just moved into town after her parents' divorce and Marlena befriends her soon after Cat's arrival. It has elements of coming-of-age story and obsessive friendships with toxic people.

The book alternates between present time of 34 year-old Cat and the period she spent with the troubled Marlena during their adolescent years and it is told from the point of view of Cat.

At the beginning I thought the book was similar to
Apr 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
During our formative teen years, it's highly possible that one year out of all others will remain with us and shape our lives for better or worse. Cat's year is her fifteenth, having just moved to Northern Michigan with her brother and divorced mom, when she meets the very intriguing, older (17 yo) neighbor Marlena. From the outset we know that Marlena's homelife is not typical -- her mother has left, her father is one you wish would go away too, and drug dealers are everywhere. We also know fro ...more
Doug Bradshaw
May 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I look at the picture of Julie Buntin, a very pretty and young author, and I'm amazed at the depth of her writing and her understanding and ability to describe the minute details of the psychology of adolescent friendships. Others have said there is some similarity to Ferrante's work, "My Brilliant Friend" and I have to agree. In some ways, this book takes that whole highly personal experience, the coming of age story of two girls, to an even higher level with the background of drugs and alcohol ...more
May 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
4 Stars
Oct 28, 2016 rated it liked it
I won this book as a GR Give-Away. The narrator of this novel is a functioning alcoholic in her mid-30s who is recalling a pivotal period 20 years earlier that set her on a downward spiral. During her sophomore year of high school, her parents’ divorce yanked her out of a private prep school where she was flourishing and dumped her in a semi-rural town of modular homes and dilapidated trailers, where people struggled to survive on minimum wage jobs and dreams of the future rarely looked beyond t ...more
Dec 05, 2017 rated it liked it
This was a hard book to rate. There are parts I was completely into the book and other parts I just didn't feel it. It's a beautifully written novel and the realistic feel of it is incredible so give it a reading for sure.

Overall, devastatingly beautiful but my attention was not completely absorbed in it.
Feb 05, 2020 rated it it was ok
This is a Young Adult book. I loved what this book was trying to do, but I do not think was token where it needed to go. Most of the first half of the book I really hated the book, and the second half of the book was just ok. I kept reading it only because I really wanted to find out what happen to Marlena. (*)
Chloe Caldwell
May 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Marlena is a beautiful and tragic story of friendship, addiction, loneliness, family, and poverty. Julie Buntin was able to put words to sentiments I've felt and have never been able to articulate. A riveting novel, a twisted coming-of-age story, a heartbreaker. ...more
Cortney LaScola - The Bookworm Myrtle Beach
We know from the very beginning that Marlena dies... that doesn't make it any easier when it happens. This story was sad and heartbreaking, with an inevitable ending. It is the kind of book that stays with you long after you read it. ...more
MaryBeth's Bookshelf
Apr 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I really loved this book even though it was a difficult read. When Cat's parents divorce and her mother takes her and her brother to Michigan, her life is forever changed. There she meets Marlena. Life has not been kind to Marlena and she turns to drugs and alcohol to cope with her issues. Within a year Marlena will be dead and Cat's life forever haunted by her friend.

PinkAmy loves books, cats and naps

From the blurb, MARLENA should have been a novel that I devoured. A dysfunctional friendship that ends in a tragic death, still haunting the one left behind. Julie Buntin’s writing never pulled me in. I couldn’t connect with the characters and didn’t feel anything.

MARLENA was on my radar from the prerelease buzz, but something always pulled me back. I’m glad I waited until Kindle had it for $2.99.

Plenty of reviews enjoyed MARLENA more than me, so hopefully if you choose to read, you’ll like
Jul 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook
At its core, Marlena is about an intense, short-lived friendship between two teenage girls, Marlena and Kat. And the powerful escape their friendship offers from the world that surrounds them - of poverty, drugs, and their own broken families. It is also about the impact of Marlena on Kat's life as she becomes an adult. Beautifully written. So well done! ...more
Book of the Month
By Judge Steph Opitz

There is something compelling about certain teenage female friendships. The intensity that can rival a great romance. The desperate loyalty, the inexplicable need to pour your every secret into your friend vessel. The mutual adoration that’s near-sexual. Perhaps because, beyond “boyfriend” or “girlfriend,” the nebulous shape of a best friendship requires more guarding and defending and is therefore more sacred. I don’t know. But I've had relationships
Jason Diamond
Mar 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Tore through this. It's going to be tough to find a better debut novel this year. ...more
Mar 24, 2017 rated it liked it
Full review and giveaway on my blog: ...more
Jessica Sullivan
Oct 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book, with its vivid and piercing prose, brought me back to my own experiences in high school—to the insecurity and recklessness, the urgency that bonds teenage girls together, the regrets that still plague me to this day.

After being uprooted to a dismal Michigan town in the middle of nowhere, Cat is immediately drawn to her next-door neighbor, Marlena, who is everything she's not: beautiful, mysterious, daring, experienced. The two girls quickly become inseparable, and Cat's days and night
May 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"So very quickly, in no more than a matter of weeks, she was my best friend. I was the first person, she told me, whose brain moved as quickly as hers, who got the weird things she said, her jokes, her vile, made-up swears, and could sharpen them with my own. A best friend is a magic thing, like finding a stump full of water that will make you live forever, or wandering into a field overrun by unicorns, or standing in a wardrobe one minute and a snowy forest the next. I wasn't about to take it f ...more
Adam Armstrong
Jun 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
What happens when the shadows cast by your past shroud your present in a darkness so impenetrable that you can no longer see what’s in front of you? With acute perception and a haunting grace, Julie Buntin’s Marlena looks at the ways in which a person’s past can influence their every moment, waking or asleep. This is the story of a woman haunted by who she was as a fifteen year old, and specifically what she did and did not do before the death of her best friend. As she reveals who she is now, t ...more
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“Tell me what you can't forget, and I'll tell you who you are. I switch off my apartment light and she comes with the dark.” 46 likes
“I've never believed in the idea of an innocent bystander. The act of watching changes what happens. Just because you don't touch anything doesn't mean you are exempt. You might be tempted to forgive me for being just fifteen, in over my head, for not knowing what to do, for not understanding, yet, the way even the tiniest choices domino, until you're irretrievably grown up, the person you were always going to be. Or in Marlena's case, the person you'll never have a chance to be. The world doesn't care that you're just a girl.

Let the record show that I was smarter than I looked. And anyway, I touched.”
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