Rummanah Aasi
 Catherine House is a school of higher learning like no other. Hidden deep in the woods of rural Pennsylvania, this crucible of reformist liberal arts study with its experimental curriculum, wildly selective admissions policy, and formidable endowment, has produced some of the world's best minds: prize-winning authors, artists, inventors, Supreme Court justices, presidents. For those lucky few selected, tuition, room, and board are free. But acceptance comes with a price. Students are required to give the House three years--summers included--completely removed from the outside world. Family, friends, television, music, even their clothing must be left behind. In return, the school promises a future of sublime power and prestige, and that its graduates can become anything or anyone they desire.
    Among this year's incoming class is Ines Murillo, who expects to trade blurry nights of parties, cruel friends, and dangerous men for rigorous intellectual discipline--only to discover an environment of sanctioned revelry. Even the school's enigmatic director, Viktoria, encourages the students to explore, to expand their minds, to find themselves within the formidable iron gates of Catherine. For Ines, it is the closest thing to a home she's ever had. But the House's strange protocols soon make this refuge, with its worn velvet and weathered leather, feel increasingly like a gilded prison. And when tragedy strikes, Ines begins to suspect that the school--in all its shabby splendor, hallowed history, advanced theories, and controlled decadence--might be hiding a dangerous agenda within the secretive, tightly knit group of students selected to study its most promising and mysterious curriculum.

Review: The promise of a Gothic novel set at an exclusive boarding school is what lured me to pick up Elizabeth Thomas' Catherine House. Unfortunately, it failed to deliver that promise and is yet another classic example in which a book's premise is actually a lot better than the book. To be honest, I am not completely sure what this book is about even after I finished it but I will do my best in trying to give you a synopsis. Students are accepted to the mysterious and prestigious Catherine House only if they agree to give up contact with the outside world for three years in exchange for unimaginable power and influence. Ines arrives at Catherine House because she has nowhere else to go. After months spent partying, she has barely graduated high school and is failing to deal with a traumatic memory that left one person dead. Ines sees Catherine House as her last chance, but she quickly realizes that she doesn't fit in at Catherine House either. She lacks the motivation that drives other Catherine students and she seems to be the only one leery of the cult-like mediation sessions  and the possibility that students are being experimented on at the school.  
  Though I had a difficult time following the plot, I was intrigued enough to keep reading. Ines had the potential to be a fascinating character. I wanted to know more about her back story and learn the truth of the traumatic event. Ines is kept at a distance from the reader, which makes sense considering how hard she tries to bury down her trauma, but she does not make an interesting character to follow. She is constantly drunk (apparently alcohol flows like water at this school) and sleeping in some different stranger's bed constantly. After a while the plot felt repetitive and the mention of the "plasm" experiment was convoluted and confusing. I definitely think this book has a niche audience and I was definitely not a member of that club. 

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There are many allusions to sex, drug and alcohol usage. Recommended to older teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: The Secret Society by Donna Tart, Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
2 Responses
  1. Oh dear 2 stars. The premise sounds so good, but a confusing plot. And not knowing what you're reading is just a no-go for me.

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