A hard hitting story about growing up and having to deal with loss.
With a title like The Death House you have to figure that this is going to be a dark story where bad things happen and you wouldn’t be wrong thinking that, but The Death House is also a coming of age story that reflects on how joyful life can be. This story could be set in our time or in the future, but it isn’t really important as to the when as The Death House itself is a contained world. All we as readers need to know is that at some point in the past something affected the population and caused some peoples blood samples to become defective. Not much more is known about this except that you will not become defective if this hasn’t shown in your blood by the age of 18, and it doesn’t seem to be passed from parent to child.
We are given very little history of how The Death House came to be, but we are quickly introduced to the members of Dorm 4, the boys who will show us that growing up is never easy, especially when you know the only reason you have been sent to The Death House is because you are defective. This is seen as a death sentence where everything you have known and loved has been taken away from you. These boys are thrown into a new reality of survival and loss. The boys of Dorm 4 are not the only ones in the house, there are rivalries between different dorms which makes the story interesting in a sociological way to see how these children, girls as well as boys interact with each other.
The main character of this story is Toby who thought his life was just beginning to sort itself out, he had been invited to a party by the girl of his dreams and his only real worry is whether this girl likes him or not. That though is the past and Toby is now the de facto leader of Dorm 4 although he tries to remain detached from the other boys. Will as the youngest of the group still has curiosity and hope and tries to get everyone to get along. Louis is super smart and yet also socially awkward. Then there is Ashley who although he isn’t shunned by the others is the least understood as he prays and still believes in god.
What makes you defective? What happens when this kicks in? The symptoms are different for everyone. All of the children are living in fear of what this will mean for them and when it will be their time to be taken to the Sanatorium. With the arrival of Clara and Tom all of the boys and girls of the house start to learn how to live in the moments they have. They realise life is for the living and that although they do not have the freedoms and families that they once knew they have each other.
Clara is the character that ignites the house and allows the other characters to interact with each other more. She doesn’t think in the same way that the others do, they are mostly focused on their anger and fear. It isn’t that Clara doesn’t have the same fears as the others, it is rather that she doesn’t focus on the full life she is missing out on. Instead Clara rationalises it by the fact that she is alive today and that is better than nothing. Before Clara arrives Toby has had the nights to himself, to explore and think, so when Clara invades his nights Toby is initially upset, as this is the thing he has but the others don’t. Clara allows Toby to remember who he was before the house and they gradually become closer.
With each person’s defectiveness affecting the person differently, it is hard to grasp what happens to the characters. What happens in the Sanatorium is a mystery, which makes it quite terrifying, it constantly lurks in the characters heads that this is where they are going to end up. The adults in the Death House are also quite sinister, they do not interact with the children unless it is necessary, they seem to be there just to observe. This did leave me with quite a lot of questions: Is the house the place you go to die? After a character is taken away are they tested on? Is there somewhere else the characters go or is the sanatorium the end?
The Death House is a hard hitting story about growing up and having to deal with loss; loss of your family and sometimes yourself. The characters cling to a reality that they cannot go back to and constantly have to deal with seeing what happens to the people around them as well as living with the fact that it could be one of them next. All of the characters deal with this differently. I found myself caring about what happened to the characters as they are all portrayed brilliantly. Sarah Pinborough has managed to write one of the saddest love stories I have read in a while, reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet by being tragic and yet also triumphant. This story leaves you like some of the best books I have read with a lot of questions that do not detract from the overall story.
Review by Michelle Herbert
1 positive reader review(s) for The Death House
Elle from Australia
This was such a beautiful book, I was as soon as I started reading it and its just got this beautiful moral to the story and the overall such a bitter sweet heartbreaking book, I actually miss the characters, Toby was the shit!
9.5/10 from 2 reviews