September 20, 2017

Dawn Kurtagich: "The Dead House"

Title: The Dead House [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None (though there's a companion novella, The Dead House: Naida, that was only issued in digital version)
Author: Dawn Kurtagich [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Thriller/Mystery, Horror, Supernatural
Year: 2015
Age: 14+
Stars: 4.5/5
Pros: A lyrical mindfuck that steals your breath and plunges you into the heart of darkness. A lead (leads?) who pulls you in.
Cons: A tad too ambitious, weaving voodoo into an already complex enough story. A few occurrences are too convenient. An almost-love-triangle is included.
WARNING! Gore, insanity, self-harm and severed tongues. Not to mention, if you need a neat ending, you should probably stay away.
Will appeal to: Both those who love psychological horror and the classic brand.

Blurb: Two decades have passed since an inferno swept through Elmbridge High, claiming the lives of three teenagers and causing one student, Carly Johnson, to disappear. The main suspect: Kaitlyn, "the girl of nowhere." Kaitlyn's diary, discovered in the ruins of Elmbridge High, reveals the thoughts of a disturbed mind. Its charred pages tell a sinister version of events that took place that tragic night, and the girl of nowhere is caught in the center of it all. But many claim Kaitlyn doesn't exist, and in a way, she doesn't - because she is the alter ego of Carly Johnson. Carly gets the day. Kaitlyn has the night. It's during the night that a mystery surrounding the Dead House unravels and a dark, twisted magic ruins the lives of each student that dares touch it.  (Amazon)

Review: The first time I heard about TDH was when Christopher Pike mentioned it in a post of his on Facebook. Now, it's not like Mr. Pike recommends a book and I automatically buy it, but his comment got me curious enough to look TDH up on Goodreads. And since the blurb sounded insanely good (no pun intended), this book ended up on my TBR list. Not only, but I bought it shortly after it came out (well, only a few months after...which is a short amount of time for my standards). As to why I'm only reviewing it now, two years after it hit the's a mystery whose clues no camera, no diary entry and no Post-It has recorded for the posterity to solve 😉. (This refers to the many media used to tell the story, in case you haven't heard about it yet).


Unreliable narrators come in all shapes and sizes. And as intriguing as they may be, they're not guaranteed to keep things interesting per se. Now, I am not an expert of unreliable narrators by any means, but I think it's safe to say that this particular brand of UN is unheard of. (Almost) everyone in Carly's world thinks that Kaitlyn doesn't exist, and dismisses her as the product of a severe case of Dissociative Identity Disorder*, but if she isn't, WHAT is she? another soul trapped in the same body as Carly? a paranormal or supernatural entity? I love it how the book doesn't have an answer for that, though in the end it hints at one possible version of the truth, but here's the thing...One. Possible. Version. Now, if you're the type of reader who needs answers or spelled out endings, chances are this book won't work for you. But the journey into Kaitlyn's mind (and Carly's, up to a point) is fascinating, not to mention that I couldn't stop underlying quote after quote in her diary. What I can say is, for someone who supposedly doesn't exist, Kaitlyn sure sounds very real, and she will probably break your heart. I mean, if her little sister Jaime doesn't break it first.
*Note: Kurtagich mentions having a family member with DID in the author's note. Since Carly/Kaitlyn's therapist works under the assumption that DID is the reason why Kaitlyn exists, I have to trust the author to be able to correctly represent this particular (and, in Carly/Kaitlyn's case, supposed) disease. On the other hand, this is not a contemporary book, so I also assume there's been room for a few tweaks... [...]


This book puts so much on your plate. Supposed madness, supernatural occurrences, dark magic, and a few other things I won't mention because SPOILER. All while the mysteries, or at least the questions, pile up. It's very ambitious - maybe a tad too ambitious. It mixes so many different ingredients, and while I understand the use of voodoo-like magic and its place in the story, I think maybe it's a touch too heavy in a context already so full of horrors and unexplained things. The story would have worked all the same if the alternative to Carly/Kaitlyn suffering from DID or being a two-soul creature were a "simple" demonic presence. I'm not complaining though - what I'm saying is, the voodoo ingredient might not work for everyone. Also, there's an aspect of the story that requires a huge suspension of disbelief (I'm talking about the Dead House itself, and the way the gang ultimately relates to it), but then again, we don't REALLY know if certain things are the product of real magic or the outcome of a powerful group hallucination. Either way, they make for a great story that will have you on the edge of your seat 😱.


I can happily suspend disbelief about all things supernatural - actually, I revel in them. It's the little (or not so little) details of everyday's life that I need to get straight. So, if I should point at a few things that didn't work for me - or were too convenient - in this book, I'll have to mention how easy it seems for Kaitlyn (and the rest of the gang) to fly under the radar, even on the wake of a couple of police investigations. Especially with all the drama and the horrors unfolding around Kaitlyn right on the school grounds. (Plus, I wonder how she can spend DAYS hidden in a room without bathroom access...). Also, all the boys in this book (except Scott) seem to have a thing for Kaitlyn, or gravitate around her, despite her peculiar condition (...or right because of it?). Another thing that stretched my suspension of disbelief was that, technically, if Carly gets the day and Kaitlyn gets the night, their body never sleeps - which I don't think would be possible in real life (not to mention, if Kaitlyn were just Carly's alter, not even their mind would ever sleep...). There's also an instance of sex without protection (I assume, since it's not mentioned), and a male character commenting "I have excellent taste. I'd be gay if I wasn't so straight" that sort of reinforces an old trope. Just like Carly/Kaitlyn's therapist supposed incompetence - judging from YA books, one would think there's no professional working in this field who knows what they're doing...But honestly - none of these things tainted my appreciation of the story, if not marginally (hence the half star I knocked down). If you are a fan of horror and you like your stories complex (and your main characters memorable), I can't recommend this book enough. A remarkable debut and a endless source of quotes 😉.

For quotes from this book click here.
For more books that defy categories click here.

Alternate US cover


  1. I've heard a lot about this one Roberta! Glad you (mostly) loved it. I'll have to keep it mind for when I want something creepy.

    For What It's Worth

    1. Creepy it is...for a teen book, it's hard stuff. No Stephen King of course, but the level of creepiness (and gore) is high. Then again, if I read this and survived, you most probably will! LOL.

  2. Oh, I really loved this one. I liked the added media throughout as well. I'm a big fan of unique storytelling in books.


    1. Yes, the way it was told was a winner for me too. Especially the diary, which provided an endless stream of quotes! And the camera footage didn't sound forced - very well incorporated.

  3. This is just one more book that Vera's loved and I've meant to pick up soon- soon never happened (yet) though ahaha. It sounds brilliant and I'm really intrigued (I really am) and I do hope I get around to this one sometime soon. I'm glad your curiosity paid off, Roby! It's not often that you pick up books based on just one recommendation, I've noticed ;)

    1. Shall me and Vera gang up against you, girl? *insert menacious look here*
      LOL, I know, Vera is the mystery and horror buff in your duo. But you should make an exception for this one ;).

      ONE recommendation? Heck no. Heaven forbid haha. I went and read all the GR reviews that were available at the time! ;D


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