Book Review: The Agony House by Cherie Priest

Denise Farber has just moved back to New Orleans with her mom and stepdad. They left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and have finally returned, wagering the last of their family’s money on fixing up an old, rundown house and converting it to a bed and breakfast.

Nothing seems to work around the place, which doesn’t seem too weird to Denise. The unexplained noises are a little more out of the ordinary, but again, nothing too unusual. But when floors collapse, deadly objects rain down, and she hears creepy voices, it’s clear to Denise that something more sinister lurks hidden here.

Answers may lie in an old comic book Denise finds concealed in the abandoned attic: the lost final project of a famous artist who disappeared in the 1950s. Denise isn’t budging from her new home, so she must unravel the mystery — on the pages and off them — if she and her family are to survive . . .

author: Cherie Priest
illustrator: Tara O’Connor
year of publication: 2018
page count: 256
genre: young adult, horror, graphic novels, paranormal

A couple days after graduation, I hurried my happy little self over to my local library to pick up some new reading material. And before you say anything, yes, I do still have over five hundred books on my shelves at home that I haven’t read, but, no, that will never stop me from borrowing from my library. Anyway, I hadn’t been able to seriously read for pleasure in a little over a year (though I did genuinely enjoy most of the novels in my French literature classes), so I could hardly contain myself when I walked in those beautiful doors.

I’ve been trying to read a wider variety of genres, so my typical book haul from the library includes four books per trip — one middle grade, one young adult, one adult science fiction or fantasy, and one nonfiction. Normally my first priority is continuing any series that I’m currently reading, but this cover immediately caught my eye when I walked past the young adult section, so I had to grab it.

Speaking of the cover, let’s first talk about appearances. The colors on the dust jacket are beautiful, and the art immediately caught my eye. The same art style is exhibited throughout the novel in comic excerpts, and all of these comics follow a blue and white color scheme, which I found to be a rather pleasing change from what I’m used to in comics. The blue from the comics is also scattered throughout the novel to separate messages, letters, internet searches, and ghostly voices from the regular text. I found this particularly difficult to read at night in low light and several times had to step away because I had a headache.
I can’t take the dust jacket off since this is a library book, but there also seems to be some sort of art on the actual cover, so that’s something to look forward to if you buy a hardcover copy.

The switch between YA horror and graphic novel was really interesting. I’ve never read a book that crossed formats like that, but it really worked for me. I loved the fact that we got to read the comic alongside of Denise instead of just hearing about it through the story. The horror aspect was relatively creepy, but, I’m going to be honest, I didn’t expect much. I have very little experience with YA horror, but the ones I have read have never quite hit the mark for me. However, that means this would be suitable material for middle grade readers as well.

Some parts felt really slow and unnecessary, like her text conversations with her friend from her previous home. I get that she was having a hard time leaving her old life behind, but those conversations with Trish added absolutely nothing to the story. It took all I had not to skip through them once I figured out they were pretty meaningless.

I did really enjoy the story overall, though. My boyfriend had to listen to me gush about some of the creepier bits, and I mentioned on several occasions that I loved the small town vibe that we saw when Denise would visit the po’boy place for an internet connection. I also really liked the emphasis on social issues and movements, such as racism and feminism. Priest found a way to insert a lot of references to gentrification and racism, and the comic flips gender stereotypes, thanks to protagonist Lucida Might.

I liked all of the characters, though I didn’t find myself getting attached to any of them. My favorite character overall was probably either Norman or Denise’s stepfather, but I wish Norman had played a bigger part. Terry was funny, Dominique was interesting. I didn’t care as much about Denise or her mother, unfortunately.

I saw the ending coming a mile away, which usually makes me bored. However, in this particular case, I still really enjoyed the story even after figuring it out. I think this is partly because we had the breaks in story for the comic, so it gave me some time away from the main plot. It was also probably partly because I just really enjoyed the writing.

So, to sum up all of my thoughts: I really enjoyed The Agony House. It was my first time reading Cherie Priest and also my first time seeing Tara O’Connor’s beautiful art, and I loved the combination of novel and graphic novel. The scary parts were mildly creepy at best and super predictable, but it was still a very enjoyable story overall, so I wasn’t disappointed. I’m going to have to check out other works from both the author and illustrator.

As far as whether or not I would buy it, I have added this book to my wish list. I’m not obsessed enough to immediately buy it, but I would definitely like a copy of it at some point.

rating: ★★★★☆
buy the book: amazon | book depository | books-a-million
Cherie Priest: website | goodreads
Tara O’Connor: website | goodreads


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