First Lines: They built it out of stone–dark gray stone, pried loose from the unforgiving mountains. It was a house for those who could not take care of themselves, for those who heard voices, who had strange thoughts and did strange things. The house was meant to keep them in. Once they came, they never left.
For a couple of years in my classroom, this book has had quite the following among a select group of students. And for a long time, they tried to convince me to read it. I’m not opposed to horror/scary stories, but I have a hard time reading them because I feel like I can’t read them late at night. (I sometimes get nightmares; thanks, Stephen King.) But having read another Roux book, I thought I’d give this a try.
Itching to get out and experience the world, Dan thinks the perfect start is to go to New Hampshire College Prep. It’s a program on a college campus that gives students a taste of college, pulling students together from all over the country. It’s perfect for Dan…except for the part where summer housing has been closed and they’re forced to stay in the Brookline dorm–a former sanitarium. As Dan and his new friends Abby and Jordan begin exploring Brookline, they discover the horrible things that happened there, and the secrets that tie Dan and his friends to the asylum’s past. Because Brookline wasn’t just a hospital, and sooner or later the truth will come out.
I can see why middle schoolers like it. The pictures (similar to the ones in the Miss Peregrine books) give a creepy feel to the book in a way that words alone don’t. The asylum setting is definitely creepy. The strange happenings at the asylum are also sufficiently creepy.
But that’s about all it was. It was low-level creepy, enough to be unsettling. And that was mostly because Dan starts to become a potentially unreliable narrator. But beyond that? It wasn’t the scary, nightmare inducing story I thought it was going to be.
I’m starting to notice this with Roux’s work, actually. The plots always sound incredibly interesting and creepy, but the follow-through just isn’t there. Suspense is not something she excels at. She really just seems to take things that are normally creepy and hopes that their creepy factor is enough to carry the story. After trying two different series by her and being underwhelmed by them both, I think I’m just done with her writing.
The characters were interesting enough, if sometimes acting in unexplained ways. Like sometimes the characters fight and none of them know why. Or they talk in slightly bizarre ways (Felix comes to mind here). So I didn’t really connect with the characters as well as I would have liked. I mean, they just didn’t feel like people. Even the main characters felt like caricatures. Actually, now that I think about it, that’s the way characters are in horror movies too, and it’s the exact reason why I can’t stand horror movies.
It’s not a bad read. It’s actually pretty quick. But I think a younger, less choosy audience (like my students) would like it better.