The Death House is a horror novel, published in 2016 by English author Sarah Pinborough.
The book focuses on Toby, a young boy living in England at some point in the future. He leads a normal life until he is marked as a ‘defective’ by a simple blood test. He is sent away to the Death House, a boarding school for other children who are marked as ‘different’ by their blood. Everyone is terrified and no one is sure what is going to happen to them. Their lives are monitored by nurses for any changes in their health. Anyone who shows deteriorations is sent away in the night to the sanatorium. They never return.
Toby tries hard to avoid being noticed, choosing to sleep during daytime and not taking his sleeping pills so he can wander around the house at night. It’s only when Clara arrives that his life is disrupted again, causing him to seek more out of his monotone life.
From the synopsis, I thought the book would contain many horror or thriller elements, especially as this book is advertised in the horror genre. However, the author failed to portray the intensity of the creepiness which I was originally expecting. There are also many questions throughout the story which remain unanswered. What happens to those who go to the sanatorium? What was the origin of the sickness? Why do the children have to be taken away from home? Nevertheless, I adored much of the book and it will forever remain as one of my favourite YA’s, due to my emotional attachment to the characters and many of the key themes, specifically death. Death is one of the things that frightens me most so it has become one of the things that I am most obsessed with.
The main character, Toby, is the character who I was instantly drawn towards, not just because he is the one who narrates the story. He is mature and brave beyond his age, obvious from the way he thinks about his wrecked life and how he cares for Will later in the book. He has a strong friendship with the other boys in the house – especially the ones in Dorm 4. However, most of the other characters in the book are not well developed: they only appear when they need to play a role in Toby’s story.
Overall, The Death House is a beautifully told story. For me, I read it as a love story, and not just about romantic love. I saw love in all forms with pain, sacrifice, and joy. Pinborough has captured the lives, fears, and small moments of happiness in addition to the complexity of the lives and losses of the characters. The hopes and fears of the main characters are awakened in a heart-breaking but inevitable ending.
I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys character driven novels, slightly cheesy but heart-breaking endings, and more unanswered questions than your favourite mystery novel.