cons: not much world-building
Toby is a 16 year old defective. Weeks ago a black van picked him up at home and deposited him at what he and the other kids call the Death House. They’ll live here until their bodies break down and they’re taken upstairs to the sanitarium from which none return. The atmosphere in the house changes when two new kids arrive.
I started this book thinking it was a horror novel. It’s not. There are minor SF elements, in that you slowly learn that it’s a future after which humanity has recovered from a pandemic. Unfortunately the characters don’t know much more than that, and so can’t pass on any more detailed information about the history of the pandemic or what makes the kids defective genes dangerous (beyond the fact that they get sick). The lack of details on this account was my only complaint with the book.
The characters are all wonderful. There are a number of dynamics at play: what room you’re assigned to, the age of the kids, religious beliefs, fear factor, etc. I enjoyed the complexities of the various relationships and Toby realizing the undertones of why people act the way they do. He grows as a character as the book progresses, realizing his own motivations as well as the motivations of those around him.
Clara’s wonderful too, with a zest for life, relishing her freedom from overbearing parents despite being sent to the place where she’s going to die. I really enjoyed watching her entrance change how things work in the house.
There’s a dread about the book - obviously considering the plot - but it’s not all dread. There are moments of joy and moments of peace. I thought the author did a great job of varying the events to keep me guessing about what would happen next.
There were some truly touching scenes and I thought the romance progresses naturally given the circumstances.
The book is a very quick read that had me in tears at the end.