ARC acquired at Book Expo in exchange for an honest review.
“There were always excuses for why girls died.”
Ninth House is a love letter to living and surviving unspeakable abuse. This is a book all about trauma, and PTSD, and healing, in any and every way that you can. This is a book for victims, who have felt they will never get the piece of them back that someone forcefully took. This is a book for anyone who was willing to do anything to feel empowered after something horrible occurred. This is a book about the dark and the light and the in between phases a human can go through to get their voice back.
But this is also a story about a girl named Galaxy Stern, or Alex, who is from LA, but is now across the country and studying at Yale. The book continuously switches back and forth from Late Spring to Winter, so we get to see what happened in the past and the ramifications it causes for present day Alex.
In the Winter, we get to see her starting Yale, meeting a man named Darlington, and learning all about the nine secret societies at Yale, with secret, magical rituals that they perform. Lethe recruits a new freshman every three years to join sixteen seniors every year, where they gain knowledge of the occult. And Alex was picked because she has a very sought-after ability, that she has been running from her entire life. Also, it is Lethe House’s responsibility as the ninth house to keep the others in order and make sure they aren’t doing bad things.
In the Spring, everything is different, and Alex is struggling with the weight of so much. From missing people, to ghosts who are paying her too much attention, to a girl being murdered that Alex can’t help but think was because of one of the secret societies, and she is willing to do anything to solve the case. Even if that means making a deal with one of the ghosts she is supposed to be ignoring.
“But the trouble had begun on a night in the full dark of winter, when Tara Hutchins died and Alex still thought she might get away with everything.”
Sounds pretty amazing, right? And I’m telling you, this book’s atmosphere, along with the campus setting, it was a perfect combination. Also, you all know that I think Leigh’s writing is a tier above most. The quotes I was able to pull from this book? They take the breath from my lungs even upon rereading them.
Also, this book has a beautiful discussion about privilege and power dynamics. Leigh does not hold back truth of what white, rich, privileged boys and how they feel they are entitled to any and everything, and God bless her for that. Cycles of abuse and entitlement truly can be passed down, leaving terrible things in their wake, which will impact so many victims for their entire lives. Unchecked privilege is a terrifying thing, friends. And Leigh is not scared to go there, in the terrible acts they commit, to the horrible ends they deserve, and I really appreciated it, and it may have been my favorite element of this book.
“Beautiful boys who should be happy, who wanted for nothing but still found things to take.”
But you all are probably wondering why I gave this book three stars. I’m going to be brutally honest, not much happened in this book, and surely enough didn’t happen for this book to be almost 500 pages. I feel like you could easily cut this book in half and it would have been way more impactful and way more exciting to read. As much as I loved the healing of this book, and I loved the premise of secret societies all about the occult, I just felt so damn bored by reading this book. It started to feel like a chore to pick up, and this book took me twice the amount of time it would normally take me to read.
It also started to feel so formulaic, where something really bad and heartbreaking would happen (past or present) then we’d have 50+ pages of nothing, and then something even worse happens, then 50+ of nothing. I will never lessen anyone’s trauma or how they choose to write and heal about it, but this book just made me feel nothing and then immeasurably uncomfortably and sadness, back to back to back, and it made for a really not great reading experience for me. Also, my favorite character was for sure Darlington, and I really wish we could have seen so much more of him. And lastly, the ending sort of wrapped this story up, I guess? But it just left me desiring so much more, and not in a good way if I’m being honest.
So, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. I picked this book up the day before twitter exploded about the trigger warnings. I will be honest, it made for such a strange reading experience, because I felt like everyone was looking at me, even though I was only 100 pages into this book. At the end of this review, like always, I will have all the trigger warnings that I found listed. This is a dark book, with very dark themes and elements, and some extremely dark scenes. Alex truly has horrible things happen to her and her loved ones throughout her short life. I highly recommend you make sure you are in a safe headspace before picking this one up, because a few of these triggers are not my own, but they still really bothered me to read.
“People didn’t need magic to be terrible to each other.”
Overall, this was a disappointment for me. This was easily my most anticipated release of 2019, besides Queen of Nothing, and maybe I just put it on a pedestal subconsciously. I do think this one will be polarizing upon release, and I have friends who love this more than me and dislike this more than me. Honestly, I’m in this weird middle ground where I loved the setting and atmosphere, but I didn’t love the story or characters. I will probably still pick up the next installment, I think I’m just going to go into it with lower expectations.
The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
Content and Trigger Warnings: drug use, overdosing, murder, death, loss of a loved one, rituals, gore, PTSD depiction, grief depiction, self-harm, bloodletting, rape, child (12) rape (it is only two pages, but it is very graphic), statutory rape (15), sexual assault, forced sexual assault on video, talk of suicide, blackmail, physical abuse, a magical date rape drug, forced eating of human waste (to a rapist), and racism (always in a negative light).