Custom House | May 2020 | 320 pgs
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss
Catherine House -- an elite school with a strict selective admission and policy hidden deep in the woods of rural Pennsylvania. Each year, they select the extraordinary pupils and these lucky selected ones will be given free tuition, room and board. However, all these come with a price and the students will have to leave their materialistic values and disconnect with the outside world for three years but they can earn points to "buy" the things they want and most of all, they're assured that in return they'll graduate from Catherine with a bright future of sublime power and prestige.
Our protagonist, Ines, enter Catherine with a hope that the school will reform her into a better person than what she was in the past. There, she meets her roommate, Barbara Pearce (a.k.a. Baby) and the two become friends quickly. Baby is the polar opposite of Ines; she's studious and she's also obsessed in getting into a specialty concentration class for their study of a certain material they called plasm. As Ines continues her life at Catherine with indifference, Baby's sudden death hit her and soon she learns that there's something more than meets the eye behind the school's strange protocols but what most intrigue her is the tightly knit group of pupils they called the concentrators and their mysterious curriculum. She knew that the concentrators are carefully selected pupils and their projects in their respective labs are kept under locks at all times. What lurks behind these closed doors and is Baby's death connected to them?
You are in the house and the house is in the woods.You are in the house and the house is in you . . .
I didn't know what to expect of Catherine House initially. It was a slow burn with a strong focus of the characters and their interactions amid the mysterious and atmospheric Catherine. Right from the start, the reader suspected that there's something off about Catherine but couldn't pinpoint what. I felt I was reading what's inside Ines's head and some teenage angst most of the time but that's fine since Ines was an intriguing character. I didn't like her, but I didn't hate her either and she simply has that kind of indifferent attitude which lead you into thinking that she's not bothered by anything but actually she keeps her thoughts to herself.
Catherine, on the other hand, was a great subject by itself and I was curious by its atmospheric setting. Viktória, the director who runs the school, was another mysterious character whom you know you should tread with care as she could be a formidable disciplinarian but at the same time she also left you in doubts of her agenda. In spite of the slow buildup of suspense and the unclear direction where the story is going, I actually find this tactic to be quite effective as it blends with the unsettling feeling and that atmospheric setting until the last quarter of the book in which things started to unravel real fast and leave your mind whirling. Although this is the first novel by the author, I loved the voice of this book and I'll be looking forward to her future releases.
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