I think Crazy House by James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet was the first book I read in over a year that wasn’t written by Stephen King! Until only recently, my reading library had been somewhat… conservative.
Stephen King is the man, of course, with second place falling to Joe Hill (naturally, it is his son after all). I have read outside of this very exclusive list, but in all honesty, not as much as I should’ve. A bit of Tolkien, some ‘movie’ books like The Revenant, and some fantasy epics (before I realised that for the most part I’m not a fantasy fan).
The point is that the big writers most readers know and love, the likes of James Patterson, Chris Ryan, and John Grisham, have never been experienced by me. So when I see a book called Crazy House, I automatically assume I’ll be reading some Rob Zombie style murder house filled to the brim with excessive gore, psychopaths, shallow characters, and a pointless love interest. What can I say, I’m a horror fan to the core…
Needless to say, I was both shocked and excited to discover that I had opened up into an expansive, dystopian world, with two powerful female leads, three if you count the antagonist, which carried me from page to page in anticipation of what happens next.
My sister in law recommended this book to me and I went in blind. My first exposure to both James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet as authors, and the closest thing to a dystopian I’ve ever read. (I tried Divergent but could only get 30 pages in before I decided I didn’t like the author’s style.)
In all honesty there isn’t much I can say about the premise of the book without spoiling the details of the world that reveal themselves throughout the novel. Some ‘reveals’ are pretty obvious, I’d even call them tropes, and yet others are surprising and deepen your connection with the characters involved. This is what makes Crazy House such a riveting page turner. It perfectly balances the expected with the unexpected, and weaves them into a flowing narrative that keeps you on the edge of your… reading… chair?
Anyway, back to it. Crazy House jumps straight in by introducing us to Careful Cassie Greenfield, a smart, sensible girl as popular as she is conscientious. We see instantly that she lives in a world of strict roles and proffessions. Like most dystopians, conformity is their salvation. Each member of their ‘cell’—a fenced in town with a job specialisation, making up the larger United organisation—is put through school and assigned a job role based on their results. Cassie appears to be the typical straight-A equivalent within this world’s parameters. We are introduced immediately to the conflict as we watch Cassie discover that her twin sister, Ridiculous Rebecca, has broken curfew, taken the jeep, and hasn’t made it home over night.
With her mother having been sent off for a ‘mood-adjust’ never to return, and her father attempting suicide outside of the system’s built-in euthanasia program, Cassie heads to school in a panic. Panic over her sister’s whereabouts mixed with an equal panic for missing school and damaging their family name any more than it already has been. From here the plot begins to unfold, and through the perspectives of Cassie and Rebecca Greenfield, we are treated to an action-packed story that keeps on delivering the excitement.
And what about the dragon flys..?
I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that I don’t often read novels with a female lead, (not through choice, just circumstance), and where I ever have, they haven’t been written by male authors. That surprises me on two fronts. Not only do James Patterson and Charbonnet do an excellent job of presenting the lives and perspectives of strong female characters, but they does it in such a way that the characters being female is not an all important plot point. They aren’t ‘strong female characters,’ they are simply strong characters, which I think highlights and addresses a huge issue in storytelling at this time.
The more I think on the matter, some of my favourite characters of all time have ben female. Underworld, Divergent, Hunger Games, The Black Magician Trilogy by Trudi Canavan, Holly Gibney from Stephen King’s Finders Keepers series. The list goes on and on. And the one thing that sets them apart from female characters that I haven’t quite connected with, is that they are simply presented as characters. They’re not a shallow statement piece like Alice from Resident Evil, because, let’s face it, whether male or female that character is flat as a pancake. What really makes a character is that they’re human beings. It doesn’t matter if they’re female or male, they just happen to be one or the other, and they are relatable and alive!
On this basis alone I applaud the writers of the aforementioned characters, and I applaud the authors for flawlessly entering that mix with this novel. Before I close up this review of Crazy House with a shining recommendation, I’m gonna weigh up the differences between my expectations going in, and the reality of the novel.
First up, Crazy House is not a gory, Saw-like experience filled with gratuitous violence. Rather, Crazy House is what Rebecca calls the place she has been taken to—an off-the-books death-row prison that runs experiments on its kidnapped residents. Furthermore, it’s not a horror. I guess it’s a thriller in many ways, and the action keeps coming, but I’d call this a dystopian if I had to label it.