Saturday, September 19, 2015

Review: The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich

The Dead House
by Dawn Kurtagich
Release Date: September 15th 2015
2015 Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Ebook Edition; 419 Pages
ISBN: 978-0316298681
Genre: Fiction / Young Adult / Horror
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Part-psychological thriller, part-urban legend, this is an unsettling narrative made up of diary entries, interview transcripts, film footage transcripts and medical notes. Twenty-five years ago, Elmbridge High burned down. Three people were killed and one pupil, Carly Johnson, disappeared. Now a diary has been found in the ruins of the school. The diary belongs to Kaitlyn Johnson, Carly’s identical twin sister. But Carly didn’t have a twin . . .

Re-opened police records, psychiatric reports, transcripts of video footage and fragments of diary reveal a web of deceit and intrigue, violence and murder, raising a whole lot more questions than it answers.

Who was Kaitlyn and why did she only appear at night? Did she really exist or was she a figment of a disturbed mind? What were the illicit rituals taking place at the school? And just what did happen at Elmbridge in the events leading up to ‘the Johnson Incident’?

My Thoughts
The Dead House is one of those books where I gave up trying to figure out what was going on about half way through the book and just went along for the ride.  I figured I could spend my time thinking about it afterwards, once I had all the facts and know how it all played out.  Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out that way as there are some things over which I am vacillating and I am still not sure exactly what I think, although I am leaning more towards the psychological aspects of this story, the dissociative identity disorder (DID). That doesn't make this book any less creepy however; in fact, to me it actually make the events far creepier if you remove the paranormal element and assume they are the result of mental illness.

First of all, I have to say right from the beginning that I loved the way this book was written.  Using journal entries, video footage (including creepy photos from said videos), transcripts of police interviews, emails, newspaper articles, etc..., the novel had a really twisty narrative to it that made it seem unreal.  And because many of the journal entries and video clips were partially destroyed or without dates, they were put in sequence where the 'author' thought they should fit, so they could have been out of sequence.  It made the novel seem a bit disjointed, but it was so much creepier this way.  I thought the concept was quite brilliant.  Looking back at the narrative, I also see how much was manipulated by the author; in one sense we get these clinical interviews with the psychologist and the police officer, and in the other sense, we have these very emotional journal entries by the principal character, both of which are very effective in drawing you in and making you empathize with Kaitlyn, trying to remove your objectivity.  It took quite a bit of effort on my part to look at events more objectively in order to try and figure them out.

The story itself however, does require some suspension of belief, but that will depend on which side you take, the paranormal or the psychological.  I did feel at times that the author was withholding a bit too much information and there were some things I really wanted to know.  For example, I would have liked to have a clearer picture of the death of Kaitlyn and Carly's parents and a bit more background on that.  While I have a good idea as to what happened, it's just what I pieced together and it may be completely different from what others perceived.  And while the events built up rather nicely, I wasn't completely crazy over the ending as I just felt like there were too many loose ends, or some things were learned a bit too late, taking away from that great creepy feeling that existed earlier in the book.  Nothing about the earlier parts of the book felt rushed, just a great building up of tension, and although I figured out the antagonist quite early, it really didn't matter as the focus was on Kaitlyn and Carly.  Don't get me wrong; I am always complaining that books do too much thinking for their readers so I love the fact that this is what I call a 'thinking' book, but there are some things a reader just cannot figure out without some help from the author.

The Dead House contains quite a lot of ambiguity in it, but that's one of its strengths.  It's very unsettling and perturbing because it makes you think; you spend the entire book wondering if you are reading a paranormal novel or a psychological one, and the answers, unfortunately, are not given to you easily.  Is Kaitlyn simply seriously mentally unstable, or is she experiencing a serious paranormal experience?  I did think the ending wrapped up too quickly for the nice buildup we got throughout the novel, and I wasn't crazy about the romance as I felt it didn't really fit into the story. And the so-called evil person twist at the end was a dead giveaway because of the romance.  I would also like to see a novel where the psychologist gets a good deal in the story instead of always being the bad guy.  Most of the them are not incompetent or inadequate at their jobs.  In any case, this is one you should go into knowing very little about and decide for yourself what you think.  It's interesting, to say the least.