Monday, October 10, 2016

Two Souls One Body And Some Weird Voodoo

Hola Readers. Ready to start our October scare fest?  Found a new book by a new author called The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich.  I grabbed it 'cause the cover was cool, it involved mental health issues, and a potentially unreliable narrator...which when done right is one of my favorite things.  How did I like the book?  Read on to find out.  As always SPOILERS AHEAD!
The book is written as a collection of culled bits and pieces from various media.  Mostly diary entries, video, and interview snippets.  We start off being told that there was a tragedy that happend at Elmbridge High School, a boarding school in England.  Over the course of a couple months multiple people have died or disappeared, culminating in a fire that left a couple more students dead and a few of them critically injured.  This book is meant to try and piece together what happened before the event.  We meet Kaitlyn, the alter identity of Carly the main character of our story.  Interestingly enough, even though Carly had her own part to play in the story, it is only Kaitlyn we hear from.  Kaitlyn's diary makes up most of the book along with her friend Naida's video diary and various interview snippets.  The gist of the story is that Carly was sent to a mental hospital following the death of her parents in some undisclosed tragedy (the term tragedy is going to be used quit a bit in this rambling, you have been warned).  Carly's therapist won' tell her what happend, rather hoping that Carly will remember on her own when she is ready.  We meet Kaitlyn, the supposed alter to ego to Carly in what their therapist has "dubbed" dissociative identity disorder.  The therapist thinks that the split happened after the accident, but Kaitlyn insists that she has always been their.  This is kind of confirmed when their little sister Jaime knows who Kaitlyn is.  Anyways, Carly is only present during the day and Kaitlyn is only present at night, neither aware of what the other experiences.  The two identities communicate through notes that they hide from the rest of the world.  Carly/Kaitlyn are allowed to go to Elmbridge, a boarding school that works with the hospital.  There they become friends with Naida, one of the few people who know about both personalities.  Naida is also very into some sort of Scottish voodoo.  Kaitlyn meets and falls in love with the mysterious and weird Ari, keeping him a secret from Carly.  One day Kaitlyn wakes up in the morning without Carly taking over.  This completely freaks Kaitlyn out which causes her to hurt herself sending her back to the hospital.  The therapist is surprised as it seems that Kaitlyn, not Carly is the "real" personality, but tries to convince her that she is still really Carly.  Kaitlyn freaks even more and wants Carly back.  Naida breaks Kaitlyn out of jail and hides her in the basement of the school.  Through out this whole time Kaitlyn refers to Dee in her diary, essentially giving her diary a name and personality.  Kaitlyn also experiences a malevolent voice, and hallucinations of an old decaying house she dubs the Dead House (hence the title of the book).  Naida decides that Kaitlyn and Carly are victims of dark magic and get's their friends in all kinds of dark Scottish voodoo to try and get Carly back. They determine that a dark magic worker has sent a demon to possess Carly/Kaitlyn and that it needs to be gotten rid of.  This does not work as planned and results in Naida cutting out her own tongue.  Naida's brother, a shaman comes to try and re-do the ritual the right way, they find out that somebody close to Kaitlyn is the bad guy.  Several bodies later it is revealed that Ari is responsible for sending the demon to possess the girls, because he felt that Carly and her friends were keeping Kaitlyn from living a full life.  We also find out that Kaitlyn is responsible for all the deaths due to the demon possessing her.  We also find out that Kaitlyn is responsible for her parents death as she grabbed the wheel and crashed the car on purpose after and argument with her father.  She told her friend John (a guy she met before the accident and one more body to add to the count) that she was glad they died and that it was the happiest day of her life.  We end the book with and interview with Carly/Kaitlyn's therapist leaning that she lost her licence and started a paranormal research lab on the remains of Elmbridge.  A transcription of a video reveals that Kaitlyn set herself and the school on fire and before she died a shadow could be seen joining her.  Carly/Kaitlyn's body was never found.  Elmbridge continues to be a site of paranormal research and mysterious disappearances.
World Building - This is a contemporary YA novel set mostly in a hospital and boarding school in England.  The world was fairly small, but very well built.  I could probably find my way to the ruined chapel, I could see the various rooms Kaitlyn was stuck in, the Dead House was sufficiently creepy and atmospheric.  As far as settings the world was pretty complete.

Story - I had some issues with the story.  It felt like a mismatch of a truly troubled individual who may or may not have at least one serious mental illness and some weird voodoo magic haunted stuff.  The story felt overloaded, convoluted and in all honesty felt like it never went anywhere.  There were several storylines that were alluded to but we never got back to them, like was Kaitlyn/Carly always a pair, or did they not appear until after the accident, was the school haunted or was that all Kaitlyn and her friends, how many malevolent entities are there and where did they all come from?  If the demon is responsible for all of Kaitlyn's killings then why did she kill her parent's long before she met Ari?  So many more questions and no answers.  It felt like the author had a thousand idea's and instead of really focusing on one or two she just crammed them all in there and hoped for the yeah.

Character - Hmmm, so in some ways I really liked some of the characters.  Kaitlyn was at least interesting, even if she was a bit angsty...though to be fair she actually sounds like some people I know as an adult so even her angst was at least on point.  Naida was pretty cool, I liked her loyalty to both Carly and Kaitlyn, I liked her ability to go and get things done and just her attitude in general.  Scott and John were ok, Ari was fun until the very end when the story went eh on the characters I guess.

Editing - From a format perspective I thought this book was pretty cool.  The various snippets were fun and gave us multiple perspectives.  From a book stand point I thought some tighter editing would have been an asset.   As mentioned before, I felt that there were just waaaaaaay to many random stories thrown in, and I feel a good editor would have sat the author down and been like "hey chica, these are all great idea's but maybe write like three or four books and really explore them instead of mush them into one confusing mess".  I also felt like the various "twists" where thrown in willy nilly while at the same time the two main mysteries (the fire and the accident) where victims of the let's use ambiguity to stretch out the suspense until nobody cares.  I really felt the editor let this book and author down as far as continuity and readability.

Mental Illness - In some ways I like that this book is a potentially jumping off point for an open and frank discussion on mental illness, especially in young adults.  I feel this book tried to touch on very important topics such as medication, integration and diagnosing of this very real and very poorly understood group of illnesses.  The questioning of the therapists methods were a good reminder that we still need to work on legitimate ways to help people, while Kaitlyn's potentially destructive behavior towards herself and others makes us ponder the balance of personal freedom and the safety of the patient and those around them.  Unfortunately the shaky inclusion of the voodoo magic stuff with no real answer at the end of the book makes it seem that all of the potential realities of this were swept away with the answer of "oh she wasn't really crazy it was probably some voodoo demon so yeah".  I think I am even more disappointed because I have read some very well written books that meld potential mental health issues and the paranormal in a way that is very effective and to me this book did not deliver on that.

Magic - I think my main problem with the voodoo in this book ( to be fair the author did name it something specific...not voodoo...I just call it voodoo 'cause that is exactly what it sounds like) is that it is never even remotely explained.  The only real info I could glean from the book is that is is some sort of maybe Scottish magic and that it seriously resembles Creole voodoo.  We never get a clear picture of what it is or how it works even though it plays a huge part in the book.  Along with that we get a timeline that includes Kaitlyn hearing voices and seeing dead people...or zombies...or ghosts...or shadows or whatever long before she meets Naida.  I guess if some of what was going on was explained better and how SO MANY unrelated characters all knew about it and how to use it was plausible I would have been more willing to believe that it may have been influencing Kaitlyn.  There was a mention of potential mass hysteria and in all honesty if this had been explored a bit more I would have been much happier.

Carly/Kaitlyn - By far the most interesting part of this book for me was the Carly/Kaitlyn dynamic.  What was in the book was very intriguing and page turning.  The idea that the two of them considered themselves sisters, figured out a way to communicate, were aware of each other and would even ask each other favors.  I really really wanted to know more about their history, were they really both around before the accident?  Were they equal as two separate people in one body or was one of them a splintered personality.  Who was really the "real" person Carly or Kaitlyn.  It seems like there was so much story to mine here, so many twits and turns to navigate that I am sad that none of it made it into the story.  I feel like if we had been able to explore at least Kaitlyn as more then the troubled angsty alter ego we may have found some true horror in her all to human psychology.

Overall - I think my feelings have been made pretty clear on this particular book.  I really wanted to like it.  The format, the premise and the topics all seemed like they could be very very interesting but overall I feel this book gave me lots of tantalizing tidbits but ultimately did not deliver on any of them.  I give this book 5 out of 10 purple notes and have now been inspired to write a completely separate post on books I would like to author to rewrite.  I have noted that I am in the minority on my opinions on this book and feel that most teen's would probably very much enjoy it and that is a good thing.  For myself I feel like I ordered a gourmet grill burger and got a McDonald's little cheeseburger instead, it tastes all right but not what I wanted.  Happy Reading Everybody!

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