Thursday, September 3, 2015

Review: The Dead House

Dawn Kurtagich
Young Adult/Paranormal Thriller
432 pages
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.

Rating: 4.5/5

Find Dawn:

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.


  1. Oh nice it's the first time I hear about this one but I'm curious. It's great to have a creepy and unique read like that, it's what we all want right? Well mybe just unique for some lol.

  2. I do wonder what's real or not now

  3. OOoh nice! This one does sound rather mysterious and intriguing! Reviews have been good so far, so I'm glad I've preordered a copy of this already! Great review!

  4. I've heard such great things about this one! Cannot wait to get my hands on this one. I really like unreliable narrators and I love that the book is told in various formats, like diary and all that! I hope it won't be too scary because I'm a wuss!
    Great review Jenny!

  5. Oooh. This sounds delightfully creepy-ish, never knowing what to believe.

  6. This sounds amazing, Jenny. I love creepy books like this one that keep me flipping through the pages. Plus, it looks like there is so much more to the book with the added comments from the police investigation and therapist.
    I'll be checking this one out from the library for certain. I must know what happened!
    Wonderful review!

  7. Okay this sounds amazing Jenny. And that cover that is so haunting and really eye catching I love it. I really need to check this one out. So glad you loved it! :)

  8. Hmmm...I'm not sure I would love the delivery of this one...

  9. Okay, I love that this keeps you guessing. I love books like this, all twisted and hard to figure out. I definitely wouldn't have given this a second look if it wasn't for your review but now I'm very curious!

  10. This sounds fantastic! I love the cover. Great review!

  11. Ooo I love books that are formatted as case files, you always give information little by little! Thanks for your review Jenny, I can't wait to pick this one up! (two more weeks!)

  12. EEEK I need to read this ASAP! This book sounds so delightfully creepy and I'm so glad it was spooky and exciting for you. Beautiful review, Jenny!

  13. I have this up for review soon as well and I really enjoyed it too! It was creepy crazy and I still don't know what to think about that ending Jenny! It gives me the creeps!

  14. Ahh... THis sounds like a book I would love. I always enjoy a good psychological thriller. I really must read this one.

  15. Sounds good! I love a nice creepy thriller!

  16. Oh Jenny this sounds so good, and I love when you have to keep reading! This is perfect for Fall, and all things creepy.

  17. I haven't heard about this one, Jenny, but it sounds interesting and confusing (but in a good way!). I also like that it has extra things like Kaitlyn's therapist's notes and police interviews.

  18. Your review basically sums up everything I felt about this book. Dawn Kutagrich just does such a fantastic job with making this book so incredibly atmospheric.

    Were it any other book, I would be genuinely annoyed by the lack of answers but as it is, I adored the vagueness and the way we were made to question EVERY SINGLE THING.

    FANTASTIC review, Jenny!

    Rashika @ The Social Potato