The Death House

The Death House - Sarah Pinborough

(I got a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

I resent the comparison with The Fault In Our Stars, because The Death House was more readable: Toby, for all his faults, wasn"t so insufferable, probably because he behaved like a somewhat surly, but all in all normal teenager. And Clara was enjoyable, with a positive look on what happened to her, even though she knew how all the kids at the Death House were doomed to end.

I wouldn't deem this the best novel ever. It left me wanting for more explanations. However, as a character study, at least for the main ones, it fairly hit the spot for me. The children and teenagers in that strange house all had to cope with their fear (and prospect) of dying in their own ways, andI thought we got to see quite a few interesting examples. Ashley, the believer kid who finds strength in the Bible and tries to share it with others. Toby, retreating into himself and pretending he doesn't care, yet still takes very much care of the younger ones. Louis, both extremely intelligent, though still a child in many ways. Will, all innocent and carefree, thus hiding his fears from himself. Clara, who had to live to her parents' expectations, and oddly enough was somewhat "freed" by the house. Jake, disguising his own fear behind his bully attitude.

Those were interesting portrayals, and through their interactions, we got to see how days and nights were spent in that microcosm that so much looked like a boarding school of sorts, yet was anything but—shadowed as it was by the mysterious sanatorium that none of the kids ever got to see, only hearing about it, only knowing one of them had been taken there when they discovered that child's belongings being gone in the morning. And the presence of the Matron and the other silent nurses only made the pressure worse.

True, not much happens in terms of plot-twists during the largest part of the novel. It was still a nice read nonetheless. The ending was a 50/50: part of me expected it to be different, more original... but at the same time, the other part thought it couldn't (and shouldn't, anyway) have been otherwise.

I didn't rate this book higher because in the end, too many things weren't explained, and they kept bothering me, try as I might to ignore them. The "Defective gene", for starters, was rather sketchy. How came the kids displayed so many different symptoms, and what was it suppose to lead to? Would it turn them into monsters of sorts, as was hinted at a couple of times? The kids were isolated like freaks, carried away in vans by men in dark suits, as if to protect the world from them; in my opinion, this would have warranted more than a few vague hints about the exact nature of the Defectiveness.

The same applied to the nurses and to their behaviour, especially considering a specific twist. Why would they hide it, and try to hush it? Out of fear it would go public? An actual reason would have been nice here.

Also, most of the twists were fairly obvious. It may be just me, I don't know. I just guessed pretty early where they were leading.

One aspect of the book I can't decide about were the other kids. While the characters I listed abover were indeed interesting, the rest were more like cardboard figures (even Tom, who got to share Dorm 4 with Toby and the others), which was weird in such a close space where I would've expected everyone to know everyone else. However, this fitted Toby's tendency to close his eyes on his surroundings, and increased the feeling that each child was on his/ her own, and that at the end, they couldn't afford to care about the others, only themselves.

Overall, I was leaning towards "I like it". However, the lack of explanations, and the somewhat bland figures of the nurses and some of the kids, left me feeling that something was missing.