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Submitted Literature

The Dead House

By Anne Cassidy

Review

Lauren returns to London, to the neighbourhood where she lived until she was seven years old. Now, ten years later, the house of her early childhood draws her in and she must face the horrible truth behind the tragedy that she survived within its walls.

What starts out with the genre markings of a typical teen ghost story evolves into a tightly written novel about a young woman who has survived an horrific trauma. Lauren's father is in prison for the murder of her mother and her baby sister. For ten years he has protested his innocence and now he has won the right to appeal against his conviction. Suddenly, Lauren is not only living close by the house where her mother and baby sister died, but is having to field communications from her father's lawyer. It was Lauren's testimony as a seven year old that helped convict her father; now new evidence has come to light and her father's lawyers want Lauren's help in finding the real killer.

There are many things to like about this book: it's well paced; the main characters are nuanced and elicit the reader's sympathies; the dialogue and situations are realistically drawn and it has a killer plot twist that is both shocking and satisfying in terms of narrative. However, despite the multiple assaults on her mental health and well-being the protagonist suffers, the only time counselling or therapy is mentioned, it's in quite negative terms.

During the narrative, Laura, having suffered the tragedy of losing her mother and sister and surviving attempted murder at a young age, also has to cope with transferring to a new high school and studying for exams, moving from a small town to a large city, dealing with the breakup of her aunt's long-term relationship, which equates to the loss of yet another parent figure as her sister and her partner raised Lauren since she was seven, and dealing with her father's appeal against conviction. Lauren also enters into her first adult relationship with a boy, who happens to be living in the house where Lauren's mother and sister were killed, and has to deal with the intrusion of memories of her childhood as her father's lawyer presses her for information. These stresses would be enough to send the strongest person looking for some form of emotional release or therapy. And yet professional help is not only sidestepped, it is dismissed as an option.

As this novel is aimed at young adults, it would be useful if it offered at least a hint of practical help that might support a young woman having to relive trauma while undergoing significantly stressful live events. It's dismissal of therapy or counselling as close to useless is disappointing and an opportunity missed.

 

 

Key Themes:

  • Childhood / Adolescence
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Significant Quotes / Pages

"For the first couple of years she had gone to see a counsellor, Mrs Paxton, at St Michael's Hospital. Once a month she had visited her in a blue room that had a giant tree outside its window. Mrs Paxton talked with her in a gentle voice. She wore cardigans even when it was very hot and nodded a lot as though she agreed with every single thing that Lauren uttered. She always wore a badge that had her name on it, Jenny, but Lauren had never called her that. When there was a quiet moment she looked out of the window at the tree. Some days it seemed full of birds, other days the branches were empty. As if the birds had heard about a better tree somewhere else. A couple of times she saw a squirrel running crazily up the trunk and one day some men came with a buzzing saw and trimmed the branches. Mrs Paxton kept looking around and tutting at the noise.

Jessica never asked about these sessions. If Lauren mentioned anything, she said, 'That's good' or 'I expect so'. At seven or eight the conversation about what had happened to Lauren's mother and baby sister was not something Jessica or Donny wanted to have. It only ever came about by accident. The murder of her mother and sister. Her father in prison. These things were like jagged rocks and most of the time Lauren, Jessica and Danny navigated their way around them. Occasionally something forced them onto the subject.

...Mrs Paxton gave her vague and smiley answers to these things. Jessica did not even try. She became red faced, her mouth tightly shut as though her answers were too hot and her words, if they came out, might set fire to the room. Donny just looked confused....So Lauren steered clear. One day she said she didn't want to go and see Mrs Paxton any more. Jessica seemed relieved and she took her to the cinema at Perranporth instead.

 

Reference: Anne, Cassidy. 2009. The Dead House. Hodder Children's Books, 2009

Reviewer

Ms Maree Kimberley
Date Review Submitted: Saturday 25th September 2010