Review: The Death House by Sarah Pinborough

Recommendations, Review
Image from Goodreads
Image from Goodreads

Author: Sarah Pinborough 
Publisher: Gollancz 
Publication Date: Feb 2015 
Source: Review Copy 
Rating: 3/5 

Synopsis from Goodreads

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. Withdrawn from his house-mates and living in his memories of the past, Toby spends his days fighting his fear. But then a new arrival in the house shatters the fragile peace, and everything changes. Because everybody dies. It’s how you choose to live that counts.


The Death House is about teenagers fighting for power and status, in a segregated community. The story is mostly told in first person but also in third person. The main character, Toby, is a defective. He is one of a few children who have been sent away from home because of a faulty blood test. In an isolated Britain he and other children are bundled into a van and taken away to a remote island. They would spend the rest of their lives in The Death House, kept away from society and culture. One thing that everyone knows about The Death House is if someone falls ill and is taken for a ride in the elevator to the top floor where the sanatorium is, they never come back down.
The heart of the story is the characters. Deep inside The Death House is the jostling of teenagers for power and status over the other children. When children arrive at the house they are separated into dorm rooms. The main character Toby is in dorm 4. Each dorm has what is equivalent to its own tribe. In which they all band together to look after their tribe. They also have de facto leaders who lead their tribe. Each dorm leader has it’s greatest rival. The rivalry starts as soon as there is a new leader or one that is becoming un known.
A new defective, Clara, arrives one night in an unmarked van. Her arrival changes everything. At first i didn’t really like Clara and Toby because i felt like it was all about them but as the story progressed I felt like it was only a defence they put on to survive and thrive in the Death House. By making it all about them it took their minds off other people’s problems. I felt like it was really hard for Clara to fit in at first but she stayed true to her personality and that gave her a chance in the Death House. You can see Toby is the king of his dorm. He doesn’t take the “vitamins”- sleeping pills the nurses give to the dorms at night. He likes to be awake, on top of things. The hours when everyone is asleep is his chance to explore and come to terms with his new purpose within The Death House. When Clara came that night he noticed she was awake as well. Making it possible for them to share things that the other children could not. Initially, Toby doesn’t like that Clara is awake at the same time as him, it was HIS time. As the plot unfolds Toby soon can’t stand a night without her. Toby and Clara make escape plans. All the while falling in love, the characters mature through the narrative and so does their relationship.
At one point in the story Jake, the bully from dorm 7 wants to reclaim his respect and power over dorm 7 and fights Toby over Clara. Following this event, Toby and Clara wish they were mermaids, swimming into a cave at night and watching the northern lights while the others sleep, heavily drugged. Pinborough reminds us that they are still children at heart, trying to come to terms with their death sentence.
The Death House allows the reader an escape, advocating an escape is necessary in our world. Toby’s escape is the night time with Clara, it is THEIR time together. It made me aware of how important it is to have something to look forward to, to know you can do something to escape your problems.
One night Toby and Clara tell one of the youngest dorm members Will to not take the vitamins so he can  stay up with them. They take Will to their cave and Will is amazed. “This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” Will says in the cave. Toby and Clara helped Will leave the Death House in quite an upsetting way but they knew it was the right thing to do. But will they leave The Death House?
The Death House is a very sad book and I don’t think it was appropriate for my age group in some parts of the book. The reason I feel it was inappropriate for my age group is because there were a few rude descriptions of behaviour in some parts of the story. I enjoyed the portrayal of the night time at The Death House because it made me feel free and wild when I read it and it was a happy aspect of the book. However, the days in The Death House I felt dragged on and on, waiting for the night to come. Maybe the author used this as a technique so that the nights would feel like an escape for Toby and Clara. Clara is a very positive influence for Toby. He was sad and alone in the Death house before Clara and when she arrived it may have taken a while for him to realise this but as the story progressed he became more and more happy.
The Death House is a character driven story showing no matter the circumstances, the people who love you will always be there to support you.
If I had to rate this book out of 5 I would rate it a 3 for the good storyline. It loses 2 points because of the inappropriate actions in parts and because it was depressing.

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