The Death House – Sarah Pinborough
Release date: February 26th, 2015
Age Group: Young Adult
Toby’s life was perfectly normal… until it was unravelled by something as simple as a blood test.
Taken from his family, Toby now lives in the Death House: an out-of-time existence far from the modern world, where he, and the others who live there, are studied by Matron and her team of nurses. They’re looking for any sign of sickness. Any sign of their wards changing. Any sign that it’s time to take them to the sanatorium.
No one returns from the sanatorium.
Withdrawn from his house-mates and living in his memories of the past, Toby spends his days fighting his fear. But then a new arrival in the house shatters the fragile peace, and everything changes.
Because everybody dies. It’s how you choose to live that counts.
Sarah Pinborough’s books have always been able to captivate me and I’m slowly working my way through all her books. I enjoy her writing style and the amazing twists and concepts she puts in her books. The next one on my list was The Death House. I didn’t know too much about it when going in, which is the way I prefer it when I know the author is good. The Death House is not your usual kind of book. It centers on quite an emotionally heavy storyline, has practically only one location where the story plays out and it involves kids and adolescents in a very dark and somber setting.
Kids’ blood is being tested and when they are found to have a certain genetic defect, they are sent away. Our main character is one of those kids who arrives at a big house on an island after his blood test came back positive. This is not a voluntary decision though, kids are literally taken from their parents, whether they want to come with or not. They also don’t know where they are being brought, only that kids who are taken never return.
It is kept very vague what the genetic defect actually does. It is only hinted at throughout the book, but it seems to be linked to events in the past and this kidnapping thing is a sort of prevention to stop it from happening again. The house has several kids, all divided over dorms. Whenever one of them gets ill they know that person will be taken to the elevator and brought to the top floor very soon. They don’t know what happens there, kids who get ill just get taken during the night, wheeled in the elevator and never come back. The symptoms are never the same, so people are never sure when they are actually ill from their genetic defect or if they’ve just caught a bug. This brings a lot of uncertainty and fear, but also denial and hope.
These are kids we’re talking about and even in their circumstances they will try to shift everything into a simpler situation. That’s why a sort of rivalry between the different dorms happens. Toby’s dorm is the only dorm that hasn’t had anyone taken yet and he wears it as a badge of honour. He frequently clashes with the leader of another dorm, especially when another batch of kids arrive and this time a beautiful girl is among them. Far away from home and faced with an uncertain future, these kids live through jealousy, fear, elation and love.
A very remarkable part of the book is when the kids see snow for the very first time. This is another hint at the fact that this might be a post-apocalyptic world where snow is not common at all. It’s like a light has finally been turned on in this glum part of the world where they have been brought. The kids can be young again, without thinking about their future or getting ill.
There are some truly heart breaking parts in the book. It’s easy to get attached to the different characters, they’re kids and they’ve abruptly been taken from their home knowing they will never return and will probably die. That is also a thing all the kids have in common and though there is a fierce rivalry going on in the house, it still connects them on some level. So when one of my favourites got ill, the storyline that followed literally broke my heart.
The ending is surprising and heart-wrenching, showing how the kids through their ordeal have become very mature and are capable of making choices that are beyond their years. This book has shown me a different side of Pinborough’s work. Where here “Dr. Thomas Bond” books used a historical mystery to create an amazing story full of real historical facts but with a supernatural twists; and 13 minutes is a dark coming-of-age tale with a surprising twist; The Death House is a dark and gloomy book packed full with emotions. I’m very excited to read more of her books and find out what else she is capable of!