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Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Publisher/date: Flatiron Books (October 8, 2019)

Genre: Dark Magic Fantasy Fiction

Series: Alex Stern

"All you children playing with fire, looking surprised when the house burns down."

Alex sees ghosts. For the most part, they leave her alone. Alex has had a hard life. After all, who really believes a little girl who says she sees ghosts? She must just be crazy.

So Alex is ripped open by the death of her one true friend, Hellie. But that's when the Ninth House finds her.

The Ninth House is a group of justice keepers who monitor the magical activities of Yale's secret societies. They are normal people, well, all except for Alex. She can actually see the ghosts, rather than having to take a magical potion that destroys your body but allows you to see them for short periods of time.

They offered her a key to her future, an education, a life away from the hard using she's been doing to keep the demons at bay. But will the price be more than she can pay?

At first, this book really grabbed me. As a fellow half Mexican chic who grew up poor with only one parent and was never one of the popular kids, I felt a kinship with Alex and liked her immediately. Her "outsiderness" from the people at Yale endeared her to me. Bardugo concisely defines privilege in one scene: "Tripp was on the sailing team, a third-generation Bonesman, a gentleman and a scholar, a purebred golden retriever - dopey, glossey, and expensive. He was rumpled and rosy as a healthy infant, his hair sandy, his skin tan from whichever island he'd spent winter break on. He had the ease of someone who had always been and would always be just fine, a boy of a thousand second chances."

And when we learned of her friend Hellie and her death, I related to her even more, having lost my brother last year and my mom in October. Bardugo's words on grief spoke deeply to a locked away part of me, "She'd never broken a bone, had surgery. But the worst damage didn't leave a mark. When Hellie died, it was as if someone had cut into Alex's chest, cracked her open like balsa wood. What if it really had been like that and she'd had to walk down the street bleeding, trying to hold her ribs together, her heart and her lungs and every part of her open to the world? Instead, the thing that had broken her had left no mark, no scar for her to point to and say, This is where I ended."

I'll admit that the first half of the book was hard to get through, building the scene and the atmosphere and the back story. But if you find yourself stuck, try to stick with it. Things really get dicey after the Halloween party, and I absolutely could not put it down after that scene and finished it at 1am.

4 Stars, not the best Bardugo, but I'll definitely read the next one.

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