YA Review: The House Where Death Lives

Alex Brown (Damned if You Do) ups the fright ante in her second anthology of YA horror, The House Where Death Lives, with a superb ensemble of nightmarish stories about demons of all kinds.

Every teen in this collection has faced death in some form. Many, for example, grieve lost loved ones. The narrator of the otherworldly fae story "Let's Play a Game" by Shelly Page (who coedited Night of the Living Queers with Brown) must remember a would-be girlfriend's disappearance to quell a haunting sense of "running away and toward something." A teen bares her heart to the rotting specter of a deceased friend in a tragic tale by Tori Bovalino ("Bloom"), while a disquieting version of a girl's dead mother lurks in a hallway in "Vanishing Point" by Traci Chee. Other lives drift perilously close to their end. A starving girl locked in her attic befriends the invisible entity within her mirror in "Good Morning, Georgia" by Courtney Gould. In "The Grey Library" by Nova Ren Suma, a babysitter succumbs to a strange charge's desires. Fear, though, is not a certainty for them all--some see darkness as a gift.

Unfettered emotions run rampant here: envy that breaks, bitterness like expired food, regret that can "destroy a person quicker than any poison." There is guilt like "a rabid beast with thick claws, gouging" and grief that feels like a "vacuum kind of silence." Contrasting this torrent of foreboding, however, is joyous love: " 'I see the world.' I touch her wrist, pressing my fingers against her pulse point. 'Here... and here... ' I brush my thumb across her inner elbow. 'And here.' I bring my hand to rest just above her heart." Blistering prose breathes life into malevolent beings, describing "vertebrae popping out of place," breath "reeking of meat, raw or rotten," and a mouth that is "a tunnel straight to hell."

The tales are grouped according to the architecture of their shared setting (Attic, Down the Stairs, Second Floor, First Floor, Grounds) and connect in other, unsettling ways. Gay, bi, sapphic, and nonbinary characters are beautifully represented. Incorporated too are strong multicultural identities (Jamaican, Lebanese, Chinese, among them) and mythology, such as an Italian strega (witch) in "What Lies in Silence" by Justine Pucella Winans and a Tiyanak, a vampire of Filipino lore that takes the form of an infant in Kay Costales's "Cradle and All." Compellingly horrifying. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer

Shelf Talker: This compelling YA horror anthology of nightmarish tales features a diverse cast of teens encountering strange manifestations of their complex emotions surrounding death.

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