Well then. This is a book I loved. I loved it in a ‘couldn’t put it down, needed some downtime when I’d finished it, honest to goodness book hangover’ kind of a way.
TFiOS for the dystopian fan, that’s how this book was sold to me and let’s be real, if you want to sell a book to me then that’s pretty much the sentence to use. GIVE ME ALL THE WORDS. I devoured it. I couldn’t read it fast enough and now I’ve finished it and I’m mad at myself because it’s over now and I half wish I’d taken my time because now all I am left with is ALL THE FEELS. I cannot with this book. I cannot.
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.
So basically, there’s this group of kids, aged between around 10 and 17 living in this kind of boarding school type house, on an island.
The Death House.
They’re all 'defective', which means at some point they’re going to present with unknown symptoms and be taken to the sanatorium where they’ll never be seen again. Nobody knows what happens in the sanatorium, or even really what the sickness is: it’s never ever explicitly stated and the symptoms seem to vary from person to person so that even a sniffle becomes something terrifying. There are whispers of all kinds of horrors 'they say it makes you bleed from the eyes'; this is the very definition of living in fear.
The children - teenagers mostly - pretty much have free rein: there are nurses, who administer their vitamins at night, and teachers who don’t seem to care much about teaching these kids that will likely not reach adulthood and there’s a matron who’s always kind of there in the shadows, a formidable presence, but mostly, they’re left to their own devices: forming friendships and rivalries and waiting until it’s their turn to be wheeled away in the dead of night.
It’s all kind of monsters-under-the-bed stuff really though in a way, the fear of the sickness. I mean it happens: children do get sick and once they are, they're taken, but the fear of that isn’t all there is, it’s ever present but not overbearing; there’s more going on in this book than that, so much more. Pinborough has a story to tell that goes beyond her dystopian setting and she tells it so damn well. The story is incredibly compelling and the characters utterly fascinating – Toby, Jake, Clara, all of them, they get under your skin so that every single one of them makes you feel something different. The book is miserable, God, so miserable and there’s a fear that you can almost taste but at the same time it’s strangely uplifting and some parts were so bittersweet they made my heart hurt.
The use of language is kind of refreshing too – this book contains swear words, kids, - and I liked that, I liked that Toby would tell people to fuck off now and then because let’s be real: you’re 16 and in a house full of people, yourself included, that are waiting to die. A simple ‘go away’ isn’t going to cut it. It felt like it really was narrated by a 16 year old boy with little time for bullshit. There’s bitterness and anger here, just like there should be and it’s portrayed incredibly well – Pinborough doesn’t shy away from emotion in her writing and it’s incredibly powerful. In Toby, and in Jake – Jake is a freaking incredible character – that emotion is so well written that it makes your fists clench.
There’s this thread of fear the whole way through – of death and of isolation and of the unknown – and an indescribable sadness, but more than that, this is a study of how we react to the things that are inevitable and an incredibly insightful look at human nature and relationships; it’s a character driven story, a heartbreaking tale of love so atmospheric you’ll have goosebumps. And the ending, well. WELL.
It’s beautiful, this book. It made me cry.
I’ve been left feeling achey and I’ve been left wanting more and I’ve been left feeling sad that I will never get to read this book for the first time ever again. This book is extraordinarily beautiful. It’s moving and haunting and despite the tragedy of it all, there’s this constant glimmer of a zest for life. Not quite hope (abandon hope Helen, should you choose to enter here and consider this fair warning) but a strange sort of lightness, a demonstration of happiness being found in the strangest of places (and I need to use that Dumbledore gif again don’t I? Oh God. Sorry not sorry.)
Bascially, please please read this book.