Ninth House (Alex Stern, #1) by Leigh Bardugo


Content/Trigger Warnings: Graphic injuries, death, murder, loss of a loved one, grief, drug use, overdosing, drug abuse, gore, mentions of drug dealing, trauma/PTSD, anxiety, blood depictions, brief mentions of menstruation, child (12) rape (very, very graphic), brief mentions of child molestation, bullying, brief mentions of conversion therapy, assault, physical abuse, violence, scene and talk of victim blaming, talk of suicide, mental abuse (in the past), scene of drowning, abandonment, child neglect (in the past), manipulation, a magical date rape drug (pg 249 & pg 250), brief details of date rape scenes, sexual assault, forced sexual assault (on video), blackmail, forced eating of human waste (to a rapist), and racism

“But the trouble had begun on a night in the full dark of winter, when Tara Hutchins died and Alex still thought she might get away with everything.”

This is probably my most requested review since I finished reading this book. Everyone has been asking, “When is your review going up?” Well, I’m finally sitting down to write it all out. This is probably my most polarizing book that I’ve read, thus far. My first book by this author that I haven’t picked up in a hot minute. And I’m pretty sure this is the first book I’ve read all year that’s really made me question some of my reading choices. I have many thoughts, many feelings, but despite that, I feel like I have to make the statement that I did like this book and there were plenty of things I did enjoy. So before you raise your pitch forks because I gave this book three stars, take a seat because we need to have a little chat about Ninth House and then you can judge me.

Let me start by saying Ninth House is a very, very dark book and I say that in the sense that you need to practice self-care. This author didn’t add content and trigger warnings at the beginning of this book (which should have been). So please take care of yourself because there are many heavy scenes and topics throughout this book.

Ninth House is about a girl named Alex (Galaxy) Stern, who’s originally from L.A., but is now living on the east coast, studying and majoring in art at Yale. But Alex isn’t just there to study art, Alex is at Yale for another reason and was given an opportunity too good to pass up. This book flash between Late Spring and Winter, where we see two different timelines link to one another, where we see the events of what happened in the past and how those events impact Alex in present day.

Winter shows us Alex at Yale, meeting her mentor, a man named Darlington, where he teaches her about the nine secret societies of Yale. With secret, magical rituals and the many tasks they’re assigned to do, Darlington helps teach Alex to perform them, but to also defend and protect herself. The House of Lethe recruits one new freshmen every three years, where they gain the knowledge of the occult. And despite all the candidates from this year, all eyes have been pegged on Alex, for a very long time because she has a highly sought after ability. And as the ninth house, it’s Lethe House’s responsibility to keep all the other houses in order and prevent them from doing terrible things.

In Spring, things are a lot different and Alex carries a heavy weights on her shoulders. Darlington is missing, ghosts who are paying her too much attention and getting way to close, and now a girl has turned up murdered and Alex is starting to think one of the other secret societies is behind it. But when Alex keeps hitting brick wall after brick wall, and sometimes the only way to get results is to do everything except following the rules. Even if that means you make a pact with a ghost you’re technically supposed to be ignoring.

But most importantly, Ninth House is a book designed and written for those who have survived unspeakable abuse and trauma, for those who are still living with it, and for the ones who feel haunted by the abuse and trauma of their past. This book is layered with pages about trauma and PTSD, and the slow process of healing. This book is for the victims, who feel like a piece of them has been taken away, a piece they may never get back from someone who took it by force. A book for those who will do anything to survive, to keep fighting, to feel empowered after something horrible occurred. This book is for the ones who walked straight into Hell and made the journey back. This book is dark and light, painful and healing, and on these pages you’ll find the phases of the in-between where humans go when they’re trying to find their voice again. This is truly my favorite part of this whole entire book and the most seen I have ever felt by a book.

“He needed her and she needed him. That was how most disasters began.”

Truly, this book is really great especially for those rainy fall days or just for sitting around a camp fire. It’s so atmospheric and it really has a way to pull you into the story. And truly, I had to open up a word document to fit all the quotes I was pulling from this book.

And I want to briefly mention the conversation of privilege and power dynamics that’s happening throughout this book (and it’ll tie in a little bit with another piece in the review). The author doesn’t hold back from showing the privilege of what rich families especially their children can get away with. How they feel entitled to anything and everything. The scariest part is we see this happen all the time in our world where you have rich and privileged people doing terrible things and no one steps in to punish them, and if they do get punished then it’s a slap on the wrist situation. Unchecked privilege is very scary, I’ve encountered it many times in my life and I’ve seen how it’s impacted victims (how it impacted myself), and bless the author because she’s not afraid to drive the point home. From the terrible acts and cycles of abuse to the horrifying ends they deserve, the author really delivers.

“There were always excuses for why girls died.”

So you’re probably wondering, why did I rate this three stars if I enjoyed so much of the content? Let me be brutally honest for a second, a plethora of things bothered me. From the pacing, to the whiplash, to the privilege that this author can write about Native/Indigenous trauma and no one, I mean not a soul is talking about how this author handled it. In my opinion, this book didn’t spend enough time in the editing process and it should have before it was released because there’s parts that should have never been included and completely removed from the book. As much as I loved the atmosphere, the way this book accurately portrays trauma and abuse, and the many side discussions happening, these weren’t enough to make me give this book a higher rating.

And before I dive into my issues with this book, let me address the elephant in the room. Yes, I dnf’d this book 80% of the way through. Why? Because at some point, when you’re reading a book that has content and trigger warning for days and you feel like you’re trying to run in quick sand, you have to ask yourself if a book is doing you more harm than good. And so I did, I dnf’d, and I still gave it a rating. Simple as that.

“You couldn’t keep sidling up to death and dipping your toe in. Eventually it grabbed your ankle and tried to pull you under.”

I want to start with my biggest issue because no one is talking about it, I’ve read plenty of reviews and not a single soul wants to speak about it. I talked about this in my October wrap up too. Remember earlier in this review, how I talked about privilege and how unchecked privilege can be scary. Guess what, we’re here to talk about how this author took two events that impacted Native/Indigenous communities, one in which the author tried to make it seem like the event didn’t happen, brushed it off and down played it, and the other, well, it’s not good, let’s just leave it at that. A non-Indigenous author inaccurately writes Native/Indigenous trauma and no one bats an eye, but when a Native/Indigenous author accurately writes about that trauma, everyone loses their marbles. Let that sink in and sit with it a while.

As an Apache woman, let me just say, please do your research. I’m not going to go into really long details, but I want to encourage you to do your own research. If you are not Apache, you do not get say in the first event that I’m starting with. So starting off, page 50 and page 51 the author decided to bring up an event that concerns the crime and traumatic event concerning Geronimo’s remains and the desecration of his grave. For those who aren’t fully familiar with Geronimo, you can learn more about him here. The author wrote this event off like it never happened and I’m here to correct you. This event did happen, we know the names of the people who committed this crime because one of their own confessed about this horrible act and someone witnessed the whole violation, there are videos out there of people who have infiltrated the secret societies of Yale and they discuss what they learned about this horrible act and how it’s praised in those secret societies, there are plenty of articles out there for you to read (go research it, I’m not going into all the details). Ultimately to summarize, it was a very traumatic event that resulted in nothing except pain, trauma, and grief for a lot of Apache especially the remaining family of Geronimo. Then there’s page 165 and I quote, “He didn’t want to spend the evening fielding judgmental snipes from the Manuscript because Alex had felt the urge to dress as sexy Pocahontas.” Do you really need me to tell you what’s wrong with this sentence and how it’s harmful to Indigenous communities?

My issue with these two moments in this book ties in with an opinion that I have always strongly stood by. If you are a non-Indigenous author and you choose to write about Native/Indigenous trauma and history, you need to write it accurately and you need to feel the whole weight of what you’re about to write because the continuous erasure of that suffrage and history is still happening today. And depending on how you write it, especially if you are a popular, non-Indigenous author, can have a positive or negative impact towards the Native/Indigenous communities. As for you fellow reader, do your research and if you still don’t know why that sentence was so harmful, then you need to go learn about MMIW and relearn your history about Matoaka.

As for the rest of my issues with this book, the pacing of this book felt incredibly off. Some chapters flew by where others seem to be more sluggish. One chapter, something high-stakes would happen, full of shock value and then the next chapter barely anything would happen, maybe one or two action scenes and that’ll be it. At times it gave me whiplash or it would feel like large pockets of information dumping. There were also times where traumatic things felt thrown in to add to shock value. Not always, but some of the time it felt like the author was just putting it in there for the shock of it all and that doesn’t sit right with me because trauma shouldn’t be used as a tool or a way to push a story forward.

Overall, I kind of expected this to be the outcome. Going in, I already knew this was a polarizing book and I wanted to go into this book to find where I stood with this book. I’ll be honest, I’m a little disappointed, but I’m still glad I read this because there was so much I truly loved about this book. I didn’t talk about it, but I did enjoy the characters and as I said, the atmosphere is so, so good. I’m not sure if I’ll pick up the next installment, but if I do then I’ll probably read the end of this book just to get an idea of the kind of setting the next installment is set up for. And if I do pick it up, hopefully I’ll love it a little bit more than I did with this book.

“That was what magic did. It revealed the heart of who you’d been before life took away your belief in the possible. It gave back the world all lonely children longed for.”

Buddy Read with Robin 💜


4 thoughts on “Ninth House (Alex Stern, #1) by Leigh Bardugo

  1. That was a very insightful review! Thank you for explaining the issue in the book, I will have to look into it, because I read it about a year ago and don’t really remember anything about that. As for for rest, I myself still enjoyed it. When it comes to trigger warnings, I don’t think I’ve ever seen them in books… But it’s something that needs to be introduced, especially in YA lit. Though Ninth House is actually an adult novel, so I kind of expected it would be much darker than Leigh’s previous novels!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think many readers would catch it because both of those instances are so brief, you might not catch it right away. Of course, I can’t speak for other Apache and other Indigenous readers, how these things may have impacted them, but it was definitely uncomfortable for my reading experience.

      I think with content and trigger warnings, I agree that YA needs to start including that especially since YA contemporary dives into a lot of hard topic so often. I think with adult books it’s more of a grey area when it comes to content and trigger warnings. For myself personally, I know in adult you can expect dark things, but I think there’s a certain point that the author should ask themselves if they should include the content and trigger warnings at the beginning because of how many heavy topics, explicit content, etc… they add in. I think it’s a discussion that should be open for discussion more. I don’t think there’s ever been a true discussion or debate about it. So thank you for bringing it up so we could discuss it.

      I’m glad you still enjoyed it. It’s a wonderful fall/spooky season read. There’s a lot of good that’s packed into this book and reading it late at night while it’s down pouring with some candles lit, so good. If you don’t mind me asking, what were your favorite things about the book?

      Liked by 1 person

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