The Dead House – Dawn Kurtagich.

Many thanks to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, via NetGalley, for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!!


Okay, so this book has a really interesting premise. I loved the execution — via transcripts of video footage, excerpts from diaries, transcripts of police interviews, transcripts of therapy sessions. It’s something that is not often done in the books I tend to read, but it’s a style that I’ve always loved.

So that made me really love Kurtagich’s style.

But seriously… cramming all that she did into one novel? It lost plausibility (and yes, there are elements in other books that involve the paranormal/supernatural that keep it at least plausible in some sense). Does Kaitlyn have dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder)? Is she “actually insane”? Does she have a psychotic disorder? OR… IS SHE POSSESSED BY A DEMONIC ENTITY?

I don’t know why I keep running into books like this where mental health aspects are pulled into the story but the research that the author did is wildly inaccurate. Granted, this is the stuff I deal with in my career, so there’s that extra “level” of knowledge there that your average Joe wouldn’t have, but still.

My problems with this book:

* DID is not a personality disorder. Yes, it was called “multiple personality disorder” but the actual reason that the name was changed from MPD to dissociative identity disorder is because it’s not a personality disorder. Personality disorders as defined in the DSM cannot be treated with medication; are not a result of trauma; and are life-long. You don’t outgrow personality disorders, and you don’t really “heal” from them either. Some of the personality disorders that are more commonly cited are narcissistic personality disorder (where people only care about themselves and don’t give a shit about changing because they’re AWESOME already, it’s everyone else that sucks) and borderline personality disorder (and I know people with this, and the best they can do is become self-aware and work on changing their behaviors — but that is not going to ever mean that BPD goes “into remission” — it just means that they can cope better with the issues that BPD throws at them).

So yes, the fact that the name was changed from MPD to DID is because this is a disorder that is on the dissociative spectrum, IS a result of trauma, and CAN be treated (although not cured, and medications don’t work for dissociative disorders). And with DID, unlike personality disorders, there are very different alternate personalities (i.e., someone who has DID may be physically a female and be chronologically 30 years old… but there may be alters who are 3 year old boys and 50 year old women and 15 year old girls and 20 year old guys, and if the 3 year old alter is out, the woman who is chronologically 30 will be acting like a 3 year old and won’t be faking it).

TL;DR: the reason I bring this up is because Kurtagich confused DID with being a personality disorder. And that pissed me off.

* DID is not psychosis. I’m actually not sure if psychotic delusions can exist at the same time as DID. I think so… but I did read somewhere that DID and schizophrenia can’t be diagnosed in the same person, that they’re mutually exclusive. So while there could be bouts of psychosis, it’s not going to be an actual diagnosis for someone with DID.

* The fact that DID was mixed up with “oh hey is Kait/Carly possessed by a demonic force?” People — and we’re talking professionals here, who are therapists or psychologists or psychiatrists — already have a hard time accepting DID as a valid diagnosis. And I daresay that many (if not most) churches would denounce someone who has DID as being possessed, when it couldn’t be further from the truth. So the fact that this was something that was never really answered in the book irritates me because it further invalidates the fact that DID is a very real diagnosis.

* We never really learned what Carly/Kait’s trauma was (since significant trauma — generally abuse of some type — causes DID). There was like, one sentence at the very end of the book that brought up the question of her having gone through sexual and physical abuse when she lived with her biological parents… but… that was it.

* WAY too much stuff thrown in there. There’s a ton of information about a “branch” of Scottish witchcraft, referred to in the book as Mala, but in googling it, there is absolutely nothing about that being an actual branch of witchcraft. If you’re going to throw in some culturally-bound witchcraft, at least make it real, or recognizable as something else, or… ugh. I don’t know. The fact that it’s not real irritates me, but I don’t really know how to articulate why.

There’s probably way more that I didn’t like, but I’m just going to leave this as it is for now. I did enjoy this book and I’m definitely not going to say no to reading another book by Kurtagich, but for the love of God, authors, learn to do your damn research!! I can’t stress this enough. Because if you just do shittily passable research, even on what you feel is an obscure topic, there’s going to be someone out there who knows a hell of a lot more about that topic than you. And for me — nothing irritates me more than poorly done research — especially when the book sounds like it has a lot of promise.

That being said, I give Kurtagich a 5/5 in terms of imagination and creating an interesting world, and a 5/5 regarding the execution of the story. I did feel as though the characters were fairly flat, but not terribly so — so a 3/5 for that. And the creepiness factor, well, for me that was about a 4/5 — I hate horror stories but at the same time I love Gothic creepiness and this was kind of halfway between, trying to be both, and it was a weird combination.

Am glad I read this, but am also glad I finished it. I think that two separate books could’ve been written from all of the ideas crammed into this book, which made reading it kind of exhausting because so much stuff was being thrown at the reader.

Also? I’m SO GLAD that Dr Lansing (Kait/Carly’s psychologist) lost her license and that we as readers found this out in the body of the book. I HATED THAT WOMAN. Ugh. If she were my therapist I’d have punched her. (Especially when she told Carly/Kait that when they integrate [which is something that used to be pushed as “the ONLY solution” for people with DID], one of them would die, when in reality, integration just means that alters blend together and you kinda get the best of both. This is already a terrifying enough prospect to someone who has lived almost his/her entire life being a multiple, and there is already such a huge sense of loss, that therapists do not need — and indeed, should NOT — agree that integration = alters dying.)

*climbs off soapbox*


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