Friday, September 11, 2015

Review: The Dead House

The Dead HouseAuthor: Dawn Kurtagich
Series: Standalone
Released: September 15th 2015
Publisher: Little, Brown BfYR
Length: 432 pages
Source: Publisher for review
Buy: Amazon

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. 

You’ve surely heard this before, but here it is again: The Dead House is a very unusual sort of book, narrative-wise. It is a skillfully woven web of diary entries, video transcripts, police interview transcripts, e-mails and instant messages, newspaper clippings and other documents pertaining one horrible event known as the Johnson Incident. The concept itself is a brilliant one, wholly new and original. While it starts with two souls in one body, something we’ve certainly seen before, what Kurtagich does with it hasn’t been done in YA, and for the most part, it’s mind-blowingly good.

The story, admittedly, requires some suspension of disbelief, especially when it comes to health care professionals and the decisions they made for one obviously ill girl. I had a hard time believing that someone like Carly/Kaitlyn would be allowed to attend school with almost no supervision. The school itself was a bit odd in that its students had far too many liberties and not enough adults looking after them, which isn’t how boarding schools usually function.

The narrative is both very clinical and very emotional, and it is that contrast that allows us to really sink into it. The format creates an illusion of objectivity, but we feel Kaitlyn’s pain so strongly the entire time and we are unable to make clear-headed judgments. Kaitlyn’s diary entries are fairly brief and scattered, coherent at first, but less and less so as she declines into madness. Whether it’s justified or not, provoked or not, is the question we ask ourselves the entire time, but the decline itself is so skillfully and convincingly done.

Kurtagich’s prose is gorgeous and clever, surprisingly vivid and even lyrical at times. Her horror scenes reminded me of Kendare Blake in that they turned my stomach and made me feel such pity at the same time. Nothing about The Dead House felt rushed or poorly composed, and evoking certain emotions at precisely the right time seems to be one of Kurtagich’s strengths. Every single detail is in its place, which isn’t easy with such a complex, non-linear narrative.

The revelations, however, could have been paced a lot better. There came a time when we needed something to hold onto, something more substantial than the ramblings of a disturbed girl. The book itself is fairly long, but everything we learn comes at the very last pages. While every detail was important and deliciously creepy, the book would have been better if a few truths were revealed just a bit earlier.

Read this with your lights on. And find something cheery and uplifting to read right after, because you'll need it. But all the effort and the comfort food you'll undoubtedly eat will be worth it. The Dead House may be flawed, but it's a must-read.

A copy of this book was kindly provided by the publisher for review purposes. No considerations, monetary or otherwise, have influenced the opinions expressed in this review.


  1. It sounds really good and I confess that the cover as well is really intriguing. It's been a while since I have'n't read a book like that but I confess that I'm quite curious now. thanks!

  2. I am so excited to pick this one up because I've only been hearing great things! And talk about SPOOKY! I can't look at that cover for long, and even the concept seems mind-blowing. I'm glad the author was able to keep things very original with the epistolary form of writing! I'll be sure to suspend my disbelief while reading this story to get the full experience. I'm excited to be scared to death! ;) Great review, Maja!

  3. Niiiice! Been hearing nothing but good things about this one and I was glad I ordered it already! After 1 review, I felt convinced, which usually doesn't happen! Very glad it's ordered and comes out next week! Great review!

  4. YAY! So glad you enjoyed this one too Maja! I thought it was really well done. Normally books that are more uniquely formatted like this are hard for me to settle into, but I desperately wanted to know what was going on with Carly/Kaitlyn. I agree that you had to suspend disbelief when it comes to the health care professionals, I don't think they would have let her go to school either, but I loved everything else about it:)

  5. Wasn't this such a crazy but fantastic ride? I really enjoyed it and that ending still gives me the creeps!

  6. sounds so... thrilling and creepy. Glad to hear it wasn't rushed. Have not heard of this one so its so going onto my TBR pile, if I ever have the stomach for it!

  7. Deliciously creepy, huh? And just in time for Halloween, lol :) Have a beautiful weekend, Maja <3

  8. I have heard really good things about this - I just have to decide if I'm brave enough to read it!

    Kate @ Ex Libris

  9. This definitely sounds like something I'd need to read with the lights on - but I'm all for cleverly written psychological mysteries!

  10. Gorgeous and clever are def shining recs for this one

  11. I'm glad you liked this one. I had to DNF it. I just didn't like the transcript style. The "notes" from the investigator kept pulling me out of it. I do think I'll give it a try some other time though. I did find the overall storyline interesting. I think it was a not now kind of thing.

  12. That cover is creepy! I think I can handle nothing being revealed till the end... maybe. I'll have to keep my eyes out for this one.

  13. This is at the top of my list for Halloween reading!

  14. I have this on my wish list! I really do want to check it out. It's great when you hear that someone really enjoyed a book, flaws and all. I don't really believe ANY book is perfect (five stars or no) so it's good to like something regardless of the "issues" it may have.

  15. I've heard great things about this, I may pick up a copy to read next month, when I hope to squeeze in some horror books. So glad you loved it!

  16. I've heard great things about this, I may pick up a copy to read next month, when I hope to squeeze in some horror books. So glad you loved it!

  17. Wonderful review Maja..this just screams Fall read to me , and I will add it to my list for October :)

  18. I'm reading this gem right now! I have never read anything quite like it! It's amazing!

  19. I'm reading this gem right now! I have never read anything quite like it! It's amazing!


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