Reviewed by Kevin Marchand, Connections Intern
Good House by Peyton Marshall
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Cracking the spine on Peyton Marshall’s debut novel Good House, I was nervous. Not that the writing would be poor or the story boring, but that it would be redundant. From the synopsis on the back I could tell that Good House was going to be a novel headed for a category. A category comprised of works such as: The Hunger Games, Divergent and The Maze Runner. All of them great books, in my opinion (well, with the possible exception of the latter), but all revolving around a theme that our culture seems to be addicted to at the moment. Namely, futuristic time, the world in a state very unlike it is today, and teenagers in distress at the hands of some form of experiment being imposed on them by greater society.
Admittedly, Good House does, in many ways, fit snuggly between these other stories, and it tackles a very similar situation. The setting is the future and it does involve teenagers suffering at the hands of an experiment being conducted by the society they live in. The story revolves around teenage boys who attend a school that is referred to as one of the “Goodhouse campuses.” These campuses are half boarding school and half prison. The boys who find themselves hung up in these establishments have tested positive for a specific genetic marker that scientists have deemed to be consistent with criminal behavior. So, we see many similarities to the aforementioned titles.
Where Marshall differs, however, is in the breadth of her characters and the grace of her storytelling. In the previously named works, (especially The Maze Runner) one gets the sense of watching a television show like Breaking Bad. Not that there is anything innately wrong with that, but the problem is that the pace of storytelling is rushed and almost rollercoaster-like at times. In such a narrative, much of the depth and complexity that readers of novels have come to love and cherish becomes lost.
Marshall seems to resist the urge to bring her readers from one gut-wrenching moment to the next. Though it is true that the story does have moments when it moves along quickly, and a climactic type writing is present throughout the novel, Marshall never leaves her characters behind. The story is not solely about the action and the gut-wrenching plot twists. It is much more about the main character James and his experience as a human being.
There are no characters in the novel that seem at all like cardboard cutouts. In some of the other works in this “apocalyptic, teenage struggle” type of category there may be a handful of well-developed characters and then a plethora of characters that seem like nothing more than cartoon figures. In Good House we get to know James like we know ourselves. His roommate, Owen, is as real to us as our own roommates, and the boys who rule over him on the Goodhouse campus are multi-faceted and difficult to judge. Beyond that, there are so many more characters that you will come to know and love (or hate) once you get to know them. But regardless of how you decide to judge them, you will have a credible basis for your judgements because you will know each character in Good House inside and out. You will feel your gut yanked and twisted out of its comfort zone as they are whirled around on the tide of a compelling and adventurous storyline.