Thursday, 26 November 2015

Review: House of Windows by Alexia Casale.

I think I'm going to have to apologise in advance with the amount of GIFs in this review but I think Alexia herself will back me up when I say they're completely necessary. All were found on Giphy.com. So without any further adieu, and with the usual spoiler warning, here's my review;

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Image and description from Amazon.co.uk

'The body is a house of many windows: there we all sit, showing ourselves and crying on the passers-by to come and love us.' Robert Louis Stevenson 
Nick hates it when people call him a genius. Sure, he's going to Cambridge University aged 15, but he says that's just because he works hard. And, secretly, he only works hard to get some kind of attention from his workaholic father.
Not that his strategy is working. 
When he arrives at Cambridge, he finds the work hard and socialising even harder. Until, that is, he starts to cox for the college rowing crew and all hell breaks loose...

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House of Windows is a book I recently got from a local signing that involved 5 YA authors, Alexia included (Recap here). I was intrigued by the premise and began reading this past Sunday after looking at University courses for myself for next September. Feeling a little reminiscent of my days as an Undergrad, this book just seemed like the right read for me at the time. What I got however was a book that I can easily say is in the Top 5 of 2015.

Nick Derran is a maths prodigy. He could be called a genius, but he says he just 'works hard'. His modesty does him no favours though and he spends most of his time in solitude, reading; away from any potential friends and his workaholic father. Very quickly I found Nick akin to Dr Spencer Reid from Criminal Minds. Socially inept, preferring the company of problems that have solutions, and with equal addictions to books and caffeine.


The main difference is that Nick has built up a wall of sarcasm and disdain around his feelings, preferring to just insult people rather than even attempt a friendship that he feels will be constantly doomed to fail. He's a very emotionally charged character and I found myself really connecting to that. I too was called upon for my intelligence at school, much preferring the solitude and simplicity of a lesson to the more complex and barely understandable social interactions. The few people I did connect with were often flaky at best, giving into peer pressure when they deemed it more useful to them than being a friend. Like Nick, I couldn't wait to go to University, thinking it would be a place where people actually wanted to learn and where I would finally have elements in common with those I attended with.

Nick quickly finds out that University is not like that at all. Not only do people still call upon him for his intelligence and his want to achieve a first, but he also finds social interaction even harder due to his age. Unable to simply catch up at the pub after lectures or even attend Halls, he quickly finds his sole companion to be the ruthless yet charming Professor Gosswin.


Gosswin doesn't tolerate Nick's mumbling and shrugging as a response, and is the first person who truly gets him to talk about his feelings. Although called 'The Dragon Lady' by other students, she becomes a sort of surrogate Mum for Nick, and I adored their relationship. Quickly noting his social anxiety she gets him to join the college rowing team as Cox, although when would anything in Nick's life ever go that smoothly? More importantly she sees not just the lack of interaction between Nick and his father, but the lack of Michael at all. Concerned she orders for Nick to have a lodger, the other student under her wing, Tim. 

Tim's a PHD student with more money worries than most. He literally can't say no to lodging with Nick and his Dad, especially seeing as the only condition is to watch out for Nick when Michael isn't around. The two don't get along though, mostly tolerating each other while Nick glares at Tim over the rim of his cup. 


Nick doesn't feel he needs anyone, including his godfather Bill whom Nick feels is only caring because he pities the teen. It's only when Nick meets Tim's best friend Ange that he really starts to come out of his shell. Bubbly, boisterous and a little bossy, Ange refuses to let Nick do anything except warm up to her, and really how can you not? She was quite easily my favourite character, and very reminiscent of Criminal Minds' own bubbly tech wizard, Penelope Garcia.


As the storyline progresses Nick seems to be more socially at ease, at least around Ange and Tim, but there still seems to be something holding him back. At times he's still snappy and sarcastic, taking words out of context and believing people to mean things they don't. It's only when Nick reaches rock bottom, where he feels he's going to fail even his exams, that everything comes out. He confesses that he feels like he might turn out like his mother, and that he feels like a bad person for wishing things were and had been different.


It's only with the help of Bill and Tim, and an overheard conversation with Gosswin, that he realises that there are people who care for him; not out of pity but because they love him as he is, and that he does have a family. He realises he has the father figure he needs in Bill, regardless of whether his Dad is actually around, and that Bill wants to be there for Nick; for the both of them and not because of Mike. He realises that he isn't so different, such an outcast, and that Tim feels the exact same way sometimes and has his own mechanisms for coping like Nick does with his sarcasm and obsession with doing well. He realises that Tim, as much as they didn't originally get along, has come to care for him like a big brother, and that he will always be there for Nick when he needs him; just as Nick will be there for Tim. He finds friends where he didn't see them originally, and realises that sometimes you just have to be yourself, and love who you are. In doing that, others may see who you are and come to love that as well.

This was a story that made me cry upon finishing, not because it was sad but because it had ended. Although I had struggled to get into the first few chapters due to the immense detail included about Cambridge (Which I'll admit made my head spin a little), I ended up loving the vivid picture Alexia had painted and the characters that had become lovingly lodged in my mind. Nick's troubles, in some ways, were my own. The stress and complexities of both University and friendship that he felt were the same emotions that I felt during my whole three years. I may have made close acquaintances with one or two people, but it wasn't exactly the social hub I thought I'd finally be in the mix of. Even now, two years on, there's only a handful of people beyond family I can rely on. But the one thing I have learnt since high school, in growing up, is that people can only love you for who you are, and there is no use in trying to change just to win over a few friends; because really, how strong can a friendship be if its based on an act?

That's what I feel is the message of the book really. It's about Nick struggling to fit in - at a place where he thought it would be easier - and realising that family is what you make of it, that he can only ever be himself, and that no-one should try to change him otherwise.


This is a book I really do recommend to everyone. Whether you're struggling with similar issues yourself, or just want a great college-campus read, this book should be on your shelf. I give it a quite rightly deserved 5+ stars and will definitely be picking up The Bone Dragon the next time I have chance.

Do you have any thoughts about House of Windows? Feel free to share them in the comments below, or on Twitter!

Holly @TheArtsShelf

2 comments:

  1. This sounds like such an interesting read. I am so glad it's on my radar now and I will be looking into it more! Great review!

    Jamie @ Books and Ladders

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    1. Thank you so much! I hope you enjoy it! :D

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