Welcome to the Dead House.
Three students: dead.
Carly Johnson: vanished without a trace.
Two decades have passed since an inferno swept through Elmbridge High, claiming the lives of three teenagers and causing one student, Carly Johnson, to disappear. The main suspect: Kaitlyn, “the girl of nowhere.”
Kaitlyn’s diary, discovered in the ruins of Elmbridge High, reveals the thoughts of a disturbed mind. Its charred pages tell a sinister version of events that took place that tragic night, and the girl of nowhere is caught in the center of it all. But many claim Kaitlyn doesn’t exist, and in a way, she doesn’t – because she is the alter ego of Carly Johnson.
Carly gets the day. Kaitlyn has the night. It’s during the night that a mystery surrounding the Dead House unravels and a dark, twisted magic ruins the lives of each student that dares touch it. (goodreads.com)
What really encouraged me toward this book was that Christopher Pike said it was creepy. I don’t normally choose what I read based on author blurbs but considering this was a one-in-a-million blurb that Pike did and I love Christopher Pike it was kind of like, ‘okay, I’ll try this one out.’ But it ended up on a lot of top lists for horror, books to read for Halloween, and all that jazz. So I requested it.
Initially it reminded me of the set-up of HOUSE OF LEAVES just in how it’s presented as journal entries and witness testimony and recorded psychiatry sessions and whatnot. I’d attempted HOUSE OF LEAVES over the summer and just couldn’t finish it. The style wasn’t for me and I couldn’t get into it. THE DEAD HOUSE, however, was engaging and fast-paced and it took little effort to jump right into the story.
When THE DEAD HOUSE starts we meet Carly and Kaitlyn, two distinct individuals who happen to be co-habitating a single body. At this point we don’t know whether the narrator is unreliable and this really is a case of dissociative identity disorder or something else entirely. As the story goes on it’s presented in a way that really challenges what you think you know about what you’re reading. That line is blurred as to what’s really going on with Carly/Kaitlyn and you honestly have no idea until toward the end where reality really starts rearing its ugly head but by then it’s too late and you’ll end up with blood spatter across your face.
I liked how Carly/Kaitlyn was presented as unreliable but associative. The logical part of your mind goes to the rational, that this girl is ill and she needs help. But as the entries unfold and the plot thickens rational gets drop-kicked right out the door and your grip on the safe really starts to slip. I really started to question whether Carly/Kaitlyn was the result of a single sick individual or something else entirely and I really started to feel bad for the girl(s), especially when the catalyst happens and Carly really starts to slip away from anything even remotely stable. It’s almost heartbreaking because there’s so much love and protection of the two girls for each other that you don’t want the other one hurt and you want everything to be okay and you start to get desperate but the story isn’t coming back out of the spiral and OMG WHAT’S HAPPENING?
Carly naming her diary Dee only lends to the instability of the character and really shakes up any idea you have as to whether Carly/Kaitlyn is one person or two. When the heavier supernatural elements come into the mix the pressure increases that Carly/Kaitlyn is merely “fixing” herself after her trauma but no she’s not because THERE’S SOMETHING ELSE and no one knows what and things really start spinning.
THE DEAD HOUSE really is a good creep fest. It’s told in a “found footage” sort of way that as you’re reading the story it’s counting down to the main event interspersed with sporadic accounts happening after this unknown incident that it’s nothing but constant build-up. Carly/Kaitlyn’s instability only grows, things start getting more and more terrible, and the line between reality and fantasy gets so blurred it might as well be moving. The unapologetic way it ends is shocking because this type of ending really is so rare in young adult. People like their neat, fairly tidy endings that don’t necessarily have to be happy but have to show some semblance of hope. THE DEAD HOUSE dances on the grave of your murdered hope. I love it so.
Kaitlyn is the dominant personality in the story (for a reason that I won’t divulge) and she initially develops as selfish and standoffish but forms into a character that you end up taking pity on, feeling bad for, because her comfort is quickly dissolving. She’s losing everything she loves and she doesn’t know how to adjust and there are these other things happening that she can’t cope with and it’s almost painful to watch her dissolve. You don’t end up knowing a whole lot about either Kaitlyn or Carly because of the way the story is presented but they’re such strong characters with strong personalities (at least Kaitlyn is) that they’ll drag you into their orbit without even trying.
THE DEAD HOUSE is unsettling and rattles your perspective as a reader. It makes you question whatever it is you think you’re interpreting and flips it on its head to make it look completely different from how you’re seeing it. The ending will leave you stunned, which only adds to how unsettling it all is because it’s one of those PROBLEM SOLVED . . . or is it? type of endings. I love books that can get into my head and shake up my perceptions and get all psychological on me because it makes me question what’s really going on. It reminded me a little of the movie Session 9 in that it really played with the ‘is this a separate personality or separate entity’ deal and it makes you THINK. I love thinking. Mainly because I tend to spiral and I only end up freaking myself out even more.
I’m happy that THE DEAD HOUSE has now been added to the lexicon of young adult horror. It’s an excellent addition to it that really digs into your brain and plucks all your fear strings. It’ll make you uncomfortable in your cozy reading chair, make you second-guess that “good idea” to use a Ouija board, and did you hear something?
I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.