Author: Laure Faria Stolarz
Release Date: July 22, 2014
Cover Impressions: The title and background image don't seem to go together and I hate that font. It doesn't have the creep factor that I would expect from this type of book.
The Gist: A group of teens is brought together by a mysterious contest. Write an essay about your greatest nightmare and win an all expenses paid trip of a lifetime to meet a directing legend. As they reach The Dark House, each person starts to realize that a weekend reliving their greatest fears may be more than they bargained for and the danger may be more than they realized.
Welcome to the Dark House feels like a super campy, straight to video, horror movie. With villains torn from a fictional series of movies who spout the cheesiest lines and terrible rhymes who often felt more like comic relief than a real source of danger. It features a plethora of characters who are rather static and a bit boring. I cared more for some characters (why wasn't Natalie the main character?) than others. For example, I did not care one bit for Garth and, frankly, didn't give a damn what happened to him. It also seemed very strange that we never even got to meet one of the contest winners and were expected to actually care when she disappeared. I have a sneaking suspicion her scenes got the chop when Stolarz's editor felt the book was too long.
The narrative switches perspectives between these characters and there were simply too many to keep track of. There was very little change in the voice of the narrators which made following the switches difficult and I had to keep going back and reminding myself of who was speaking (until I stopped caring and gave up). The plot is fairly fast paced and doesn't feature too much lag in between creepy happenings but gave way to quite a bit of explanation of the fictional films and their characters - of which there were MANY. I almost wish (and I'm fairly certain this would infringe on copyright and therefore wouldn't be possible) that it could have been based on a real franchise like Halloween or Scream.
Some of the scenes were pretty disturbing (I kept cringing at the whole eels in a tank scene) and I really enjoyed watching each character encounter their own fears (though it might have been more effective if there had been a little bit of mystery around what each one was afraid of). However, I had some trouble as I kept questioning whether or not this was supposed to include some element of the supernatural or if it was some elaborate scheme set up by a real murderer. I kept being distracted by nagging questions like how was this guy in so many places at once? How did he set up an amusment park filled with cameras in the middle of the woods with no one taking notice? Whose name was on the electric bill? Why were there no work orders or witnesses to the construction? What about purchase info for some of those pretty much priceless guitars and manuscripts in the house?
In the end, I was sincerely hoping for a twist that would make this all worthwhile (this was all a shared psychosis or was set up by their therapists as a form of extreme therapy or it actually was set up by the murderer or Ivy's parents and he had somehow had a hand in each child's trauma) But, I was disappointed. It seemed to leave some room for a sequel, but I don't think I will bother if that is the case.
Age: 15 and up
Violence: Violent murders by various means (buried alive, choking, stabbing)
Inappropriate Language: Piss, Shit
Substance Use/Abuse: None