Book Review: The Dead House

Posted September 9, 2015 by Kara in book review, Kara / 2 Comments

Book Review: The Dead HouseThe Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich
on September 15th 2015
Genres: young adult, paranormal
Pages: 432
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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four-stars

Debut author Dawn Kurtagich is dead on in this terrifying psychological thriller!
Over two decades have passed since the fire at Elmbridge High, an inferno that took the lives of three teenagers. Not much was known about the events leading up to the tragedy - only that one student, Carly Johnson, vanished without a trace...
...until a diary is found hidden in the ruins.
But the diary, badly scorched, does not belong to Carly Johnson. It belongs to Kaitlyn Johnson, a girl who shouldn't exist Who was Kaitlyn? Why did she come out only at night? What is her connection to Carly?
The case has been reopened. Police records are being reexamined: psychiatric reports, video footage, text messages, e-mails. And the diary.
The diary that paints a much more sinister version of events than was ever made publicly known.

At first, I didn’t even know what I wanted to say about The Dead House. It flabbergasted me. I pretty much had no idea what was going on the entire time (though I had my suspicions). It’s written in epistolary form, which means journals, interviews, video clip transcriptions, post-it notes, etc. It’s my favorite thing when it works well. I love it in Night Film, I loved it in Illuminae, and I loved it in The Dead House. But sometimes this style keeps you detached from the characters, and this was my biggest problem with this novel.

Not with the protagonist so much, as the mystery surrounding her, and her voice really worked for me. But the side characters were flat because I couldn’t get to know them through the narrative. It was the WORST with the love interests. They were cardboard and cookie cutter — even Ari.

That said, complaints out of the way, this book was pretty remarkable. It was creepy, haunting, tense, and page turning. I never knew what was going on, but I like when books keep me guessing. It’s about a girl that might have dissociative identity disorder, but she claims that she shares the same body with her sister Carly. Kaitlyn spends time in and out of a psychiatric hospital, and they are treated by the enigmatic Dr. Lansing. Between their stays at the hospital, they go to a private school named Elmbridge, where most of the creepy goings on happens.

Do you like books that mess with your mind? This one is probably for you. Do you like unreliable narrators? Welcome home. Do you like spooky mysteries with a dash of horror? Here you go.

And surprisingly, I was very satisfied with the way the mental illness in The Dead House was treated. Yes, it’s possible that the author used mental illness as a plot device, but I never thought it was trivialized or looked down upon. Everyone and anyone wanted to get Kaitlyn help. It’s just that they didn’t all believe her when she said she wasn’t mentally ill. And to be honest, I don’t think I can ever truly be sure with that open-ended ending. There is one thing that happens at the end though that leans my perspective in one direction more than the other. Obviously I can’t tell you.

This is a great book to read in October, so buy it in September and wait until Halloween month to read it. That way you help the author AND get creeped out in the month you are supposed to. 😀

Kara Sig Plant

2 responses to “Book Review: The Dead House

  1. Oh man, I have been TRYING SO HARD to get through this one. I’m in the middle of it right now and it has been a struggle – my problems with it so far have been (as you mentioned) feeling detached from the characters (in particular the love interests, which is not unusual for me, but man, my feelings of not-caring are even stronger here) and also … kind of wanting it to be creepier? I’m not at the point yet where I feel so freaked out that I want to keep on reading, but from your review, it kind of sounds like reading through the end of the book might be worthwhile.
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    • I completely understand, to be honest. I could tell right off that this book would not be for everyone. The journal style is hard because it’s easy to stay ultra impersonal from all the other characters and goings on. And yes, I wanted it to be scarier too. Lots of people thought it was though, so I just attributed it to my reading so much and nothing scaring me anymore.

      I definitely think it gets more interesting as it goes on. I don’t know if it will get any scarier for you, but if you decide to keep going, let me know. 🙂

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