Note: The following review is spoiler-free!
The House, by Christina Lauren—AKA the author duo of Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings—is about the story of Delilah and Gavin and Gavin’s house trying to keep them apart. Delilah returns from boarding school to finish out her last year of high school in her hometown, and reunites with her childhood crush, Gavin, who has always been a bit reclusive and has always seemed somewhat odd to his classmates. Delilah and Gavin immediately hit it off again and become a couple, only for Delilah to learn that Gavin’s house is pretty literally possessed, and it doesn’t seem to want Delilah and Gavin together. Things get weirder and weirder as the house does things to try to keep them apart, like harming Delilah, locking Gavin in and making the doorknobs disappear, and stealing Gavin’s phone to send Delilah threatening text messages.
I initially picked up The House because it sounded like a spooky YA, and as you may know, I love most things spooky/supernatural/weird.
The concept of a possessed house seemed really interesting to me, and was what really pulled me to this book. Unfortunately, the way the concept of the possessed house was written was actually one of the things I disliked about the book. It turned out to be way more literal than I was expecting. I went into it anticipating a more subtle approach, i.e. “something weird is happening here”, or maybe having strange things happen at the house and watching the characters wonder if it could be the house doing it. But what I got was actually a bit more of a Beauty and the Beast knock off with the items in the house having their own literal personalities. Throughout the book, other characters would refer to them as House or Piano or Bed, as in when Gavin says, “I stretched out across Bed,” rather than “the bed” (except for when, at some points, the authors seemed to forget to personify the objects with proper nouns and would bounce back and forth between referring to them normally and referring to them as if they were people. I still have no explanation for this except maybe less-than-attentive editing). Gavin and the objects in the house actually associated with each other as if the objects were people which fall just short of being able to literally speak (though they do communicate in other ways). I recognize that this extremely literal interpretation of possessed house may appeal to some people, but I didn’t like it. It came across a little silly and juvenile to me, and I would have liked it a lot better if it had had a more subtle approach.
One of the other things I disliked about this book was that the pacing was a little awkward, especially at the beginning. As previously mentioned, Delilah was away at boarding school, and then she came back to public school, where Gavin is. Delilah knew Gavin before she left for school, but they were eleven. Now they’re seventeen. After they reunite and become friendly with one another again, Gavin is almost immediately making comments like, “Your boobs are fine…more than fine. Stunning. Perfection, even.” And, in reference to an ice cream cone, “I’m not sure what watching you eat one of these would do to me.” And these comments are already happening on page 38 and 43 of a 373 page book. Where the characters have just reunited for the first time in six years. I don’t know, it just seemed awkward to me…but maybe it’s just me. The whole progression of the friendship was sort of glossed over with a sort of all-encompassing sentence along the lines of, “After that, we ate lunch together every day,” and then we are supposed to just sort of fill in the blanks for ourselves and assume they grew close enough to each other to be having these sorts of conversations in such a short amount of time. And of course, I know teenagers are some super horny human beings (I clearly remember being a teenager…I have no doubts about that part). Hell, human beings in general are some super horny, somewhat oversexed beings, but it still seems odd to be commenting on someone’s boobs and making blow job innuendos after you’ve just reunited for the first time in six years, with the last time you saw each other being when you were small children.
I get the sense that the reason this friendship/relationship progressed so quickly is because it’s essentially just the set up, and the authors kind of just wanted to get that part established so that we could move on to the meat of the story, which is The House itself trying to keep the two apart. As a result, they sort of just rushed through the re-establishing of the friendship between Gavin and Delilah. But the result of rushing through it is that it feels…well, rushed. I completely realize why they did it, but knowing why they did it doesn’t make me feel any better about it.
Moving on from the trope of instalove (or perhaps instalust), another trope that bothered me in this book was the “conveniently absentee parents” trope. The House actually took conveniently absent parents to a whole new level: we’re explicitly told right away that Delilah’s parents don’t care about her and don’t really have personalities, almost as if to say, look, we’re not going to develop these characters, so don’t even bother asking. They even take it so far as to say, in reference to Delilah’s father, “to Delilah, he was an inanimate object in a skin suit.”
Well. Alright then.
Delilah’s mom shows up long enough to give us some expository dialogue about Delilah’s personality (“What do you want, Delilah? You want life to always be one adventure after another? Why can’t you be happy here? Why do you always need adrenaline and wildness and things you can’t predict?”), and then only reappears to pick Delilah up from the hospital once, or fade into the background to “read romance novels”. (Because that’s all moms do. DUH.)
Aside from tropes, the writing itself was just not for me. I didn’t like it much, and at some points it was a little clunky and a lot awkward. For example, there is one part where within TWO pages, we get these three sentences:
“She blinked over to him just as he crossed the street.”
“He swallowed and blinked away.”
“He tugged his sleeve down and blinked behind her.”
Lord, with the blinking. I mean I get it that everyone blinks, but I don’t think we need to point it out every time they do (for the simple fact that we’d never have time for anything else), but also, why is blinked being used in this way? As such an active verb? And why so often? It’s awkward writing and again, not very attentive editing to let this happen three times in two pages. I wanted more than anything to reach into the pages and offer these characters some Visine.
There’s also some major awkwardness happening whenever there’s any kind of intimate scene between Gavin and Delilah. I know some people just aren’t great at writing those types of scenes, but it definitely didn’t help the book along to have to clunk over these awkward kissing scenes where Gavin couldn’t seem to stop licking her. Some actual snippets include, but are not limited to: “When you look at me like that, I want to lick your lips until the sun is gone,” and “Gavin leaned down, licked her bottom lip before kissing it sweetly, and asked where here parents were.”
He did what now?
Yeah, it was…strange. And not in a good way.
That being said, of course there are things I like about the book. Rarely do I find a book where I dislike every single thing (though it has happened a couple of times). As previously mentioned, I did like the overall concept of a possessed house. Even though it turned out to be way more literal than I would have preferred, it is compelling, and it provided for some tense/mysterious moments (like when he was locked in the house and unable to leave, or when roaches started pouring from the walls). Since the house was possessed, the book did have an overall spooky feel to it which was enjoyable. And in the midst of some of the more clunky, awkward writing, now and then I would find a line that I really enjoyed, was pretty clever, or even made me laugh, such as, “His smile stuttered and then twisted into a full curve,” or when Delilah is actually confronted with the house and admits that “…the idea of scary things turned out to be so much better than the reality. The prospect of a living house, the potential it had for darkness and eerie moments had seemed perfectly adventuresome.” That part rang really true for me. The concept of spooky things is always great in horror movies, but when faced with them in real life, you might not react how you think you would. That moment in and of itself seemed more genuine than any of the lovey-dovey scenes that involved an absurd amount of licking.
There was also a moment where Delilah’s mother frowns at her while wearing a pink cardigan and Delilah says “she looked like a disapproving piece of salmon”, which actually made me laugh out loud. So, as I said, it wasn’t all bad. There were definitely some good bits.
All in all, The House was an interesting little read, but it’s definitely not a new favorite. I disliked more things about it than I liked, and it wouldn’t be high up on my list of recommendations.
Has anyone else read The House? What did you think? Do you recommend any other spooky YA books? Let me know in the comments! You know I’d love to talk. <3