House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland
This book was part of the Notable list for the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Book of the Year Awards – Older Readers.
Iris Hollow and her two older sisters are unquestionably strange. Ever since they disappeared on a suburban street in Scotland as children only to return a month a later with no memory of what happened to them, odd, eerie occurrences seem to follow in their wake. And they’re changing. First, their dark hair turned white. Then, their blue eyes slowly turned black. People find them disturbingly intoxicating, unbearably beautiful and inexplicably dangerous. Now, ten years later, seventeen-year-old Iris Hollow is doing all she can to fit in and graduate high school – something her two famously glamorous globe-trotting older sisters, Grey and Vivi, never managed to do. But when Grey goes missing, leaving behind only bizarre clues, Iris and Vivi are left to trace her last few days. They aren’t the only ones looking for her. As they brush against the supernatural, they realise that the story they’ve been told about their past is unravelling and the world that returned them seemingly unharmed ten years ago, might just be calling them home.
“When one was scared, the hearts of the others knocked. If you cut us open and peeled back the skin, I was sure you’d find something strange: one organ shared, somehow, between three girls.”
Three little girls disappear at midnight one New Year’s Eve. A month later, they turn up naked but unscathed in the exact same spot with no memory of what happened to them. But then their hair turns white, their eyes dark, and strangeness seems to follow them. What really happened to Grey, Vivi and Iris Hollow all those years ago? And when a mysterious figure in a bull skull mask starts appearing, Iris realises she’s going to have to find answers she’s avoided her whole life…
Whew this one is quite intense for a YA book. The main character might be a teenager but this book really doesn’t hold back on the creep factor. I’m talking fetid corpses, ants crawling from wounds, a tree seeping pus. The writing is designed to create that skin crawling feeling even in sentences that could have been innocuous – see example at the top.
This story is essentially a modern fairy-tale of the dark Grimm variety. It’s not quite “fantasy” but neither is it pure realism. The atmosphere is cloying and very well done. There were a couple of times I regretted reading it at night time ha!
Along with all the mild body horror and grossness, this one carries a pretty heavy trigger warning for child death. While off page, I found this the hardest part of the book to handle so heads up. Younger readers without kids of their own might struggle with this less than I did.
If I had to compare it to anything else, the book that kept coming into my head was Follow Me to Ground by Sue Rainsford (although that one is very much an adult book so probably not the same readership unless you’re as eclectic reader as I am!). The humidity and strangeness of the atmosphere really reminded me of that book.
There’s some ambiguity in the epilogue – the author hasn’t ruled out the possibility of writing a sequel one day but doesn’t currently plan one, so it’s mainly left up to the reader’s imagination.
Overall this book was slightly uncomfortable but deliberately so and quite masterfully done. I think it’s a book that will stick with me and serve as a yard stick for creepy reads to come.