The House: Genuinely creepy domestic thriller

The House by Christina Lauren YA horror book reviewsThe House by Christina Lauren

Parental figures can be hard to deal with, especially when you’re a teenager. It seems like they’re always yelling at you to study, or to stop going out all the time, or else they’re stalking your significant other, or they’re making doorknobs vanish so that you’re trapped inside your own house as punishment for wanting to move out after you graduate from high school. It’s a rough time, no mistake, and explored to chilling effect in Christina Lauren’s The House.

Delilah Blue, seventeen years old and obsessed with horror movies, has returned to her childhood home after several years at an expensive private school back East. Her wealthy grandmother’s money has been forcibly reallocated to her end-of-life care and her father has lost his job, so she must finish her senior year of high school at the local public school. It’s not all bad, though: Delilah’s unrequited childhood crush, Gavin Timothy, has grown up tall, moody, and handsome. Their reconnection blossoms from friendship to flirting, Gavin brings Delilah home, and she discovers the incredible secret he’s kept for his entire life, one which is both extraordinary and terrifying.

Gavin doesn’t just live in a house; he lives in House. Iron Gate keeps itself locked for everyone but Gavin, Fireplace keeps him warm during the winter, Piano plays gentle lullabies as he drifts to sleep at night in Bed. Gavin’s favorite foods are prepared by invisible hands, books and toys are delivered to Front Door at his whim, and Television plays documentaries or reruns of Leave it to Beaver whenever Gavin needs entertainment. He has no parents or siblings — just House and its various furnishings. House cares for Gavin, and all it seems to ask in return is that Gavin never leave, never seek outside companionship, never want anything other than what House can provide. Delilah throws a spanner in the works, naturally, and House reacts to her presence with more and more drastic measures, revealing the treacherous reality behind the seemingly idyllic existence Gavin has always taken for granted. When push comes to shove, will Gavin choose a familiar, exclusively solitary life, or will he risk the unknown with Delilah?

Gavin and Delilah’s relationship is sweet, and to my relief, they’re written as people who genuinely enjoy being together. It’s not just about compatible hormones for this pair: they enjoy the same movies, books, and art, and spend more time exploring these interests together than each other’s bodies. (Though that does eventually happen, too.) Delilah helps pull Gavin out of his shell, encouraging him to cultivate his own friendship with her best friend, Dhaval, and Gavin gives Delilah the emotional validation she can’t get from her family, who would prefer to pretend she doesn’t exist. There’s a definite sense of two kindred spirits who encourage and bring out the best in one another, and in an interesting role reversal, it’s Delilah who acts as Gavin’s protector when classmates bully him or when House’s protectiveness becomes dangerous. She takes inspiration from the horror-cinema tradition of kick-ass ladies like Alice Johnson and Kirsty Cotton, not because Gavin is weak and can’t fend for himself, but because she loves him and wants him to be safe.

The House is set in the suffocatingly small (and fictional) town of Morton, Kansas; while the simultaneous dullness and charm of small-town America is used to good effect, Morton feels like it could be set nearly anywhere in the U.S. The book opens just after winter break has ended, and characters happily spend their lunch periods sitting outside, either at tables or directly on the ground — something no one in Kansas would do in January! There’s no mention of snowfall, high winds, or the bitter cold that can roll through the Midwestern prairie at that time of year. It’s frustrating that a minor, but crucial, detail like this was overlooked by the authors.

Another quibble for me was the timeline of events throughout the novel. The House begins, as I said, when classes resume in January and ends at the close of the school year, but everything seems to happen sequentially, with no mention of whether days, weeks, or months occur in between. I was often surprised to learn that a certain amount of time had passed from one chapter to the next, since there were rarely contextual clues like the passage of seasons. Again, it’s a minor detail, but it’s tough to judge whether Delilah and Gavin’s relationship is moving at FTL speeds or a normal pace when it’s unclear whether the pair has taken a single day or three months to progress from hand-holding to public make-out sessions.

On the whole, though, I strongly enjoyed The House, so much so that I read it twice before writing this review, and it was just as entertaining and thrilling on the second pass. Christina Lauren is a name I’ll look out for in the future when seeking seriously spooky YA horror. Recommended for mature teenagers and fans of strange noises in the night.

Published October 6, 2015. Delilah and Gavin’s new love is threatened by a force uncomfortably close to home in this haunting novel from New York Times bestselling duo Christina Lauren, authors of Beautiful Bastard. His shirt is black, jeans are black, and shaggy black hair falls into his eyes. And when Gavin looks up at Delilah, the dark eyes shadowed with bluish circles seem to flicker to life. He lives in that house, the one at the edge of town. Spooky and maybe haunted. Something worse than haunted. And Gavin is trapped by its secrets. Delilah and Gavin can’t resist each other. But staying together will exact a price beyond their imagining.

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JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but now makes her home in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L'Engle, Ann Leckie, N.K. Jemisin, and Seanan McGuire.

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