The Death House
Author: Sarah Pinborough
Release date: 26th February 2015
Page count: 286pp
Reviewer: Theresa Derwin
No one ever comes back from the sanatorium. One day, Toby believes he will be the kid who vanishes from the house. The Death House. He was taken from his home and brought to the house where he now lives with the other boys, watched over by the Matron. He is there because the tests have proved that with him the Defective gene is active. The stability of Dorm 4 is interrupted by the arrival of new boy Tom. Tom nearly got there. He’s seventeen and a half and if it doesn’t happen by age eighteen it isn’t going to happen. The other arrival, unusually is a girl, Clara, who has captured the imagination of the other inmates.
Sitting in the dining room, Toby watches as Ellory sits sniffling, unable to eat. He knows they will come for Ellory tonight.
“Angels of death who only appear in the night to collect sleeping, sick children.”
As he watches, he sees another person awake, Clara, who has also not taken the ‘vitamins’ the children are forced to take at night. His nights are no longer his own.
This quite simply, is an amazing book. Fraught with tension, poignancy, humour and a strange aura of dystopia, The Death House is the most significant YA book to be released this century. Toby is full of anger, his narrative cold, yet emotional all the same as he tries no to remember the good times, the times before. And he’s boss of Dorm 4, determined to hold onto his position of power, protector of the younger boys and role model for them too. The new arrivals are messing with his new world order, the order he has had to accept since being thrown into a van, drugged, and dragged to the house. But strangely, amidst the fear, anger and power plays, there blooms a youthful, touching romance between Toby and Clara. Night-time co-conspirators. Yet Toby doesn’t want to hope for anything because it might just fracture him.
Set amidst the death, and the children’s fear that they too, will get sick, are delightfully innocent moments, such as when the group plays ‘Hide n Seek’ and the brewing relationship between Toby and Clara, which offsets the inherent darkness of this novel. And the touching moments as Clara and Toby try to save the sick bird they’ve found, who they name Georgie.
This is a powerful book; emotional and frightening with a killer ending. An absolute must read.