Title: The Death House
Author: Sarah Pinborough
Rating: * * * * *
Review: The story involves a unique childrens home (The Death House) where those who are found susceptible to an unexplained terminal condition are taken. Those positive are found by a simple, compulsory blood test. Stripped from their friends and family these unfortunates are sent to live out the remainder of their days in some confined comfort.They are given a great deal of freedom on the island the Death House resides but still closely studied by the “Matron” and her team of Nurses watching for signs of those becoming sick. Once sick they are taken to the “sanatorium”. No one returns from the sanatorium.
The author writes fiction for both adults and young-adults and her adult orientated fiction often has a number of adult themes and scenes of sex and violence. The Death House feels like a cross-over between a young adult and adult. It’s dark and forboding with an almost tangiable sense of fear running through the pages and yet is written from the perspective of these adolescents. The tone is more adult but the content devoid (mostly) of explicit language and written in a fairly simplistic manner. It works incredibly well, although the pace during the first half of the book was a little more sedate than I like. Having said that the author manages to build tension effectively. I don’t often get creeped out but The Death House did manage to raise the hair on the back of my neck once or twice.
The author manages to draw the reader into the world of these otherwise ordinary children and share in their fears of the unknown and feelings of isolation. We get fed snippets of what this illness does but we never really know what it is, just that these kids will get it at some point and when they do begin to develop symptoms (which are rumoured in playground-like whispers to possibly include bleeding from the eyes) they are taken away in the dead of night and are never seen from again.
It’s the feelings of isolation, the fears of death and the unknown and how we respond and react to the inevitable that lie at the heart of the book, set within the confines of a growing childs psyche. It’s a very touching tale, powerful and yet written in a simplistic manner that belies it’s subtle complexity.
In The Death House by Sarah Pinborough, 16-year-old Toby’s life was normal before—family, high school, friends, crushes, and routine blood tests. However, his life is flipped upside down after one blood test reveals that he has the Defective gene. No one wants the Defective gene.
Suddenly, the life he knew before becomes a thing of the past once he is taken to the Death House—an isolated mansion where other kids who have the Defective gene are taken to be studied closely by Matron and a team of nurses who are searching for any signs of sickness. If someone gets sick, he or she is taken to the sanatorium. No one returns from the sanatorium.
Once Toby goes to the Death House, he instantly becomes bitter, angry, and alone. He closets his fear of going to the sanatorium and isolates himself from his dorm mates, making sure not to form any close friendships. There is no point, according to Toby, to think about a future. Everyone who goes to the Death House will die.
Everything changes, though, when Clara comes to the Death House and ruins Toby’s plans. Though Toby was resistant to Clara at first, they quickly form a friendship that buds into an everlasting romance that gives Toby hope for the future. She brings out the best in Toby, making him become the person he was actually meant to be.
Something I enjoyed about this novel was the characters, specifically Toby and Clara. His characterization and voice matched one of a 16-year-old boy perfectly. I could feel his frustration and anger in the beginning, and I could feel the love blossoming as Clara entered his life. The progress he made throughout the novel was astounding, and I think that Sarah Pinborough wrote that change beautifully. As stated, I loved Clara! I found myself connecting with Clara as soon as she made her appearance in the book. She was a carefree and happy-go-lucky teenager who was a great match for Toby. Their romance wasn’t completely cliché, and I enjoyed watching their love unfold page after page.
The entire “boarding school” feel of the book also was enjoyable. Boarding schools have always fascinated me, and sometimes, they can be written quite predictably. However, this boarding school-style story isn’t typical in the slightest. It kept me on my toes and wanting more, which kept me engaged and entertained throughout the book.
One of my favorite aspects of the book is the unanswered questions that I had after the novel was finished. It is never explained what the Defectiveness is, how one contracts it, how one dies from it, and so on. It is never revealed where exactly the Death House is or why it is completely isolated from the rest of society. Matron’s character, other than her evil and cold nature, is never completely fleshed out. We never learn of the sanatorium or what exactly occurs there. We never figure out what happens after someone dies. I found myself loving that aspect of the book. It truly incorporates with the fact that life is uncertain, and we never know all of the answers. The novel teaches that it’s okay to be afraid, but choosing to live and love in the present is what counts.
Although it didn’t bother me, there is strong language used in the novel that isn’t typical in young adult literature. There is also a bit of graphic content that may not be appropriate for younger readers. I think this novel is suitable for mature teenagers, specifically ages 16 and older.
The Death House is an incredibly moving and poignant piece that is much different than any other fantasy young adult books that I’ve ever read. It’s a book that will stay on your mind days after you read it, and you’ll find yourself trying to find answers to all the unanswered questions. Sarah Pinborough is a fantastic author, and I can’t wait to read more of her work!
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