Monday, August 17, 2015

The Death House - Sarah Pinborough

The Death House
Sarah Pinborough
Titan Books, Sep 1 2015, $14.95
ISBN: 9781783298037

Anyone under the age of eighteen who tests positive is removed to prevent a pandemic among the young.  Like most of his mates, Toby welcomes the physical because he gets a day off; but is unprepared when authorities remove him from his family and banned from corresponding with them.

Toby’s new home is on a remote island where he meets other exiled defectives like Louis and Will in Dorm 4 of “Death House”.  The students discuss what they heard about the disease; each new comment frightens everyone in the room even the oldest and top dog Toby; though unlike his classmates he hides his fears.  They constantly “inspect” one another for any symptom.  Besides the 24/7 dread of the disease and protecting the weak from Jake the bully, depressed Toby struggles with tedium as the norm; emphasized by silent nurses led by the martinet Matron; teachers who demonstrate they do not care; and performing chores that mostly is busy work.  The arrival of jovial Clara lifts resentful Toby’s spirit.  

This is a tremendous character study; summed up brilliantly by Toby as a “Lord of the Flies” community worsened by insensible adults allegedly monitoring the children.  The key is that every child is portrayed uniquely; with each using different defense mechanisms to cope.  The lack of disease detail including understanding the need for Typhoid Mary isolation and the odd adult behavior strengthen the storyline as the audience sees the impact of how scared the children are of this unknown contagion in which death allegedly lurks around every corner, under beds and in closets.

Harriet Klausner

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