Goodhouse

Astoundingly good, though not always coherent. Dystopian, yet based in truth. Dark, but not without its light. I’d never even heard of Peyton Marshall before I picked up this book, but I’ll remember her now.

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I read this in just over two days. It was around 3:30 am when I finished Goodhouse, and I waited til the next morning to start my review of it. My feelings about this novel are complex, but I feel I can still string ‘em together in a fairly coherent manner. Which is more than I can say for Goodhouse on the whole. Here’s the short of it: I didn’t love this book. But it was good, and I raced right through it. At just over 300 pages this isn’t a surprise in itself, as I often do get swept up in a story. But this story, uh. Well.

So, I’m conflicted. But I’ll try to hammer it out for y’all.

Goodhouse is a dystopian novel set in a twenty-first century America where the children of violent convicts—the ones that have specific DNA or genetic markers (which are believed to determine a premeditated violent behavior)—are taken away from their parents by the state, and put in a part-juvie, part-reform school, part-work camp known as a Goodhouse. They do this when the kids are like 3. Over the course of the next 15 years, they are coached and brain-washed and judged, sorted into 4 levels of preparedness to integrate into society. Once they turn 18, these levels determine their future. Level 3-4 are sent to remote mines, quarries or off-shore platforms. Level 2 gain the ability to reintegrate into regular society, but they must keep the moniker ‘Goodhouse’ as their last name. Level 1 are allowed to rejoin society and change their names, becoming a productive member of society.

There was something about this story that seemed plausible. I swear that this was considered at some time by some (probably small) number of scientists but for the life of me I cannot remember where or when. Peyton Marshall quotes that Goodhouse was inspired by real-life events, that of the Preston School of Industry (which I have heard of, though am not familiar with), so there’s that.

So let’s just say; plausible story? Yeah.

James Goodhouse is a Level 1 student at the Goodhouse facility near Ione, California, having recently been transferred following an attack on his former facility in La Pine, Oregon. He is haunted by his history; showing all the symptoms for PTSD—seeing specters of his dead friends and schoolmates, suffering nightmares, exhibiting fear and paranoia. Goodhouse is the story of his life in the system, and the unexpected events that befall him following his transference to Ione.

This is quite a good book. Set in an imaginative and plausible—if not terribly detailed—world, Goodhouse was a quick and interesting read. I generally like dystopian novels, though some are a bit more farfetched than others. This was realistic (and based on true events (based being the key word)) and imaginable, so there was no problem there. It was a page-turner; without the keen eye to detail that is found in some longer, more fantastical books. The story, though not always coherent (there were times I was somewhat lost, but as I pushed through, they… not went away so much as… clarified), was quite good.

My main problem was with the love story.

While I do think that the story of James paired acceptably well with the blossoming love story… well, that’s just it. It paired well. Shouldn’t a story of James include his own love story? But it didn’t, not really. It felt like something extra, something added, something… detached from the main. I feel like these were planned to blend better together, that they were supposed to… but they just don’t. Even towards the end, the two remain oddly disjointed.

Don’t get me wrong—the love story works. It’s a bit incoherent at times, especially early on (the first half or so). But it feels added. Like another story within the same book. Like we’re skipping back and forth between the two, all the way to the end.

The disjointed story of James is by no means a deal-breaker. While it slowed down the story (at least for me—at first—as I had to keep rereading sections in an attempt to figure out what was going on), soon enough I got used to it. Some of the conversations were especially confusing, and even after I finished the book and went back to them, I still couldn’t figure everything out.

Despite this, given how long it took me to read Goodhouse (which is about 320 pages), I’m still tempted to recommend it to all. But I won’t. I mean, if you’re a fan of dystopian, or just a quick reader—by all means. It’s more descriptive and less juvenile than The Maze Runner. It is significantly darker and less jovial than Ready, Player One. If you’re after an exact match, there isn’t one. But…

I’d say the closest thing to it is Mockingjay (which I’d rate about a 3/5). Dark, emotional. While not bereft of joy, not chock full of it, either. PTSD and depression are common things, and death is no stranger. Love that is a complex and fragile thing.

I would give Goodhouse 3.5 / 5 stars. Peyton Marshall’s debut wasn’t the best book I’d read in a while, nor the worst. It was alright. Decent, even. A good dystopian novel, a decent scifi read in general, though not without its flaws. I’d recommend it if you enjoyed the Hunger Games, or dystopian novels in general. If you happened to love Mockingjay, I’d say this book would be right up your alley.

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