Young Adult/Paranormal Thriller
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Available September 15th
Source: ARC from publisher for review
THE STORY (from Goodreads)
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.
The Dead House is a beautifully creepy read, uniquely formatted as a case file detailing the events leading up to the deaths of at least five people and the burning of Elmbridge High. Guiding us through this tale is the diary of Kaitlyn Johnson, a young woman at the center of everything that goes horrifyingly wrong, but interspersed with her diary entries are the case notes from her therapist as well as police interviews and descriptions of recovered camera footage, all pieced together in a way that has us on the edge of our seats from first page to last. There's something extra unnerving about knowing where we're going to end up before we even crack the spine, that knowledge haunting us throughout as we frantically try and make each piece of the puzzle fit the bare bones of what we know to be true.
Kaitlyn is a girl who's therapist would have us believe doesn't exist (not a spoiler!), insisting instead that she is a creation of the traumatized mind of Carly Johnson who suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder thanks to the accident that killed her parents. What Kaitlyn tells us is a very different story however, letting us know that she didn't suddenly appear after the accident, but has instead been with Carly all her life, two separate souls inhabiting a single body. What's exceptionally fascinating about this story is how easy it is to believe any number of truths, our desire to put faith in Kaitlyn's word tested at every turn as we watch her diary entries slowly devolve from a seemingly lucid recounting of her and Carly's lives to much more paranoid and desperate ramblings.
On top of the larger mystery of exactly how Kaitlyn's return to school eventually resulted in blood and fire, we also have a smaller mystery surrounding the deaths of Kaitlyn and Carly's parents. Neither mystery is fully illuminated, instead we're given the facts as they're known, complete with blank spaces thanks to our unreliable narrator. What Kaitlyn would have us believe could be exactly what happened in the months leading up to the “incident” as it's referred to in the file, but the tiniest of intimations toward the end about the accident that killed Mr. and Mrs. Johnson calls Kaitlyn's believability even further into question, and we're left to wonder if what we just experienced was a paranormal phenomena that resulted in tragedy or a disturbed mind finally reaching its breaking point.
Overall, The Dead House is nearly unputdownable, making us as readers work to put all the pieces we're given together and then question (and question again) the resulting conclusion. While being left with unanswered questions can be frustrating, in this case it works exceedingly well, the haunting quality of Kaitlyn's journey taken to an entirely new level through the denial of one hundred percent certainty, guaranteeing we think of this story long after we've finished.
This book was sent to me by the publisher free of charge for the purpose of a review.
I received no other compensation and the above is my honest opinion.