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The House Always Wins

In M.C. Atwood's The Devils You Know, five teenagers make their way through a spooky haunted museum. Zoinks!

The House Always Wins

BOOK REPORT for The Devils You Know by M.C. Awood

Cover Story: Two Kinds of Murders
Drinking Buddy: No Outside Food or Drink
Testosterone Level: No Flash Photography
Talky Talk: No Horseplay
Bonus Factor: The House on the Rock
Bromance Status: Day Pass

Cover Story: Two Kinds of Murders

There is a crow in the book. And dead people. The background makes one think of a desert of wasteland, and not a museum in Wisconsin.

The Deal:

Five teenagers visit a museum in order to be excused from taking final exams (I'm not sure why every single kid in the school didn't snatch up that offer, but whatever). Soon they become separated from their tour group, and all the dolls, mannequins, and suits of armor come to life and start trying to kill them, just like in every nightmare I had as a child. But the scariest thing may just be the secrets the kids are keeping from each other.

No, the killer clowns and dolls. Those are scarier.

Drinking Buddy: No Outside Food or Drink

This story is told from five points of view. There's Ashley, the queen of the school, who's harboring a horrible secret. There's Gretchen, the aspiring fashion designer, who's harboring a horrible secret. There's Dylan, her Goth boyfriend, who's harboring a horrible secret. There's Violet, the shy girl, who's harboring a horrible secret. And there's Paul, the popular African-American athlete, who's harboring a horrible secret.

I had a hard time getting to know any of these guys, let alone liking them. Dylan, yo, had a bad habbit, yo, of trying to sound hip, yo, even when narrating, yo. Ashley tried too hard to be a bitch, making her eventual redemption kind of hard to believe. And Paul's secret was nothing more than that he liked to read Shakespeare and would go to Ren Faires with his mother.

And there were very interesting aspects of these characters that were barely touched upon. Paul's views on white privilege and about the death of his father. Violet's self-esteem issues. Gretchen's true feelings for her boyfriend. Dylan's problems with bullies.

In a less than 300 page book its kind of hard to sort through five personal crises, as they fight for their lives on every page.

Testosterone Level: No Flash Photography

This was a damn creepy book. Killer dolls, dogs, ghosts, mermaids, and other animated horrors fill every page. Unfortunately this museum, like its real life counterpart, is huge, and we're rapidly shunted from one area to another before we have a chance to fully experience the horror. This, coupled with POV shifts every few pages, kind of made it difficult to keep track of what was going on.

But clowns. In the dark. Jesus.

Oh, and there was enough secret crushing and kissing in the midst of danger to keep the romantics satisfied.

Talky Talk: No Horseplay

The haunting was exciting. The personal problems were interesting. The characters were well-developed. But there were just too many of them. Every POV character you add means you have to create an additional family, another backstory, and an original voice. When we start cycling through five different characters, they have a tendency to run together (except for Dylan, yo). I think this many characters could have worked in a straight up issues book or a solid horror, but not both.

Also, the kids tended to fixate on bizarre things. When Gretchen is fighting for her life against a nameless horror, she's busy fuming over the fact that Dylan said he'd never been to this museum before, but then let it slip that he had. What else is he lying about?

Also, not all the creatures in the museum are evil. Some are quite helpful. It's implied they are the spirits of previous visitors who didn't make it out. Some go out of their way to defend the kids. But none of the characters (except Paul) seem to bat an eye if their allies are injured or killed, and they do nothing to try to help them.

Finally, every teacher in this book is either a moron, a jerk, or a sleaze. As a teacher, can't say I enjoyed that.

Also, there's the issue of originality (see below)

Bonus Factor: The House on the Rock, Spring Glen, Wisconsin

The museum in this book is the House on the Boulder, created by an evil and mysterious man to house all manner of strange artifacts. Neat idea.

Except it's really the House on the Rock in Wisconsin, which I visited with my family last spring. I don't mean it's based on that attraction. I mean it IS that attraction. Except for the haunting, every single thing in the book was something from real life. The eternity room. The whale room. The carousel. The old timey streets. The fortune tellers. The mouth door. The location of the cafeterias and restrooms. The ticket policies.

My daughter skimmed a couple of pages and knew what it was.

I read the ARC of this book, so I assume the author gave credit for her inspiration in the acknowledgements or introduction. However, Neil Gaiman also set a scene in the House on the Rock in his book American Gods and didn't try to pass it off as an original setting.

I just feel when you borrow so much from an obscure, real-life place, you're kind of building your novel on someone else's rock.

Though if you're ever in Wisconsin, stop by and see this place. It's expensive, but well worth it.

Bromance Factor: Day Pass

I enjoyed the tour, but I've seen the original. I'm glad I came, but I won't be back.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, Soho Teen. No money or caliope tokens were included, yo.

 

Brian Katcher's photo About the Author: Brian Katcher wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.