Author: Dawn Kurtagich
Genre: young adult, horror
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 15, 2015
432 pages, hardcover (401 ARC)
Check out the full synopsis on Goodreads.
NOTE: I was provided with an ARC of this book through The NOVL’s newsletter in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for letting me read this!
The four best words I can think of to describe Dawn Kurtagich’s The Dead House are: Deliciously creepy and strange. More than two decades ago, Elmbridge High School burned down; several students were killed and one student, Carly Johnson, disappeared. 25 years later a diary belonging to Kaitlyn Johnson (supposedly Carly’s twin) is found in the ruins, but Carly didn’t have a twin. FREAKY, right? Is the incident at the school a result of dissociative personality disorder or something more…sinister?
If you’ve read the description of The Dead House, I bet you could figure out my favorite part of this book. It’s “made up of diary entries, interview transcripts, film footage transcripts and medical notes.” YESSSS! We all know how much I love books made up of alternate storytelling techniques, and this one has something I’ve never seen in a book before – film footage transcripts. How cool is that? One of Carly’s friends was doing a project for a class and had to film her everyday life, but as something strange starts to happen with Carly, she keeps filming – the transcripts each come with a still from the footage, and some of them were pretty creepy. In fact, I had to call it quits for the night one time because I saw one of the stills on the next page and was freaked out. The format made you feel like an observer or someone reading the case file of the Johnson Incident, and this made it somewhat difficult to connect with the characters. At first. After a while, I was super invested in what was going to happen to them. My main issue with the characters was with the boys, who fell flat for me. Most of them (even those that were integral to the plot) were uninteresting and somewhat formulaic.
It’s hard to talk about the book’s plot without giving too much away, as I think figuring out the mystery as you read is one of the best parts. So I’ll just say it wasn’t where I thought it was going, though I should have seen it coming. I was really into the story and I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. This book explores all kinds of interesting and peculiar topics: psychology and mental illness, possession, witchcraft, violence (lots of violence).
The bottom line: If this is Dawn Kurtagich’s first novel, I CANNOT wait to see what she comes up with next. This book is innovative, haunting, and so very creepy. I had a few issues with some of the characters, but as I was on the edge of my seat waiting to find out what happened next, it obviously wasn’t a deterrent. I LOVED the format – the inclusion of so many different storytelling techniques. It was really well-done and so very cool.
Rating: 8 – freaking fantastic