Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Read this book.
So, there's this special unique college/university called Catherine House: get admitted, and all expenses are paid, and all graduates go on to wonderful lives. The catch? You have to stay there for three years, with no (or very little) contact with your family. While at Catherine, you also don't talk about your past --family, friends, high school. All are your past, so not to be talked about. And other aspects of life are controlled: what you wear. What you eat. What you listen to.
Ines is starting her first year. She has secrets: she's running from things in her past, and what better place to hide than Catherine House? But as the years go by, she discovers that Catherine House has it's own secrets. One area of study is "plasm," something that is mystical and physical and maybe dangerous.
What this book does very, very well: it captures the college experience. Here, intensified because the students are always on campus with no weekends away, no time off. Who sleeps with who, who falls for who, who takes school oh so seriously and who doesn't.
It also does a good job of keeping secrets. We get hints of Ines's past, and find out that everyone at Catherine House has something in their past. Something that makes the three years at Catherine House oh so tempting. But frustratingly we never get the whole picture. Which can be good -- it's up to us to put the pieces together. To figure things out. To make our own conclusions.
We also don't learn what makes Catherine House function. In many ways, it's a run down place, but hey, it's free, so why complain? What does it matter? Yet I couldn't turn off the part of my brain that wondered about money and endowments and how long Catherine House could go on. And it also seems like there are some sinister things maybe never fully explained: like I never was sure why all the graduates had such guaranteed successful lives. It felt like it should be more than "elite school."
The ending was terrifying, both because of what was happening and what could happen. Ines has to make some choices, and what those choices are is uncertain. I'm not quite convinced about Ines's own feelings about Catherine House and herself and her future.
I'm still not sure what happens at the end and how to interpret it.
This book will stay with me, yes. And it's got atmosphere. And the relationships are true and honest in their depiction, the good and the bad.
But -- I have questions. And I want to talk about it. So I'd also call this a good book discussion group book.