Ninth House

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
Ninth House Book Poster Image
YA author's adult fantasy has lots of drugs, sex, violence.

Parents say

age 18+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 15+
Based on 4 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Numerous references to poetry and poets and mythology (Greek and Egyptian). Nicknames for main characters are Dante and Virgil. Some real facts about New Haven, Connecticut, the Yale campus mixed in with the magical.

Positive Messages

Seeking justice despite the risks is very important here. In tandem with that, a reminder that the rich, powerful, and connected shouldn't be above the law, and the lives of these people aren't worth more than anyone else. On the minus side, revenge is encouraged and the main characters often use violence to get what they want.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The main character, Alex, doesn't know everything about her heritage but describes herself as "brown" and Jewish and possibly part Mexican. She came from a hard life of living with drug dealers and taking too many drugs to become a freshman at Yale. When a murder happens, she's relentless in her pursuit of justice to the point that she'll hurt anyone in her way, even herself and her chances at a better life. She seeks revenge with no remorse. She also protects those close to her with the same fierceness. Minor characters -- a police officer and a roommate -- are African American and Asian, respectively.


A drugged sexual assault caught on video with details about a penis in a student's face and talk of many such incidents in the past conducted by a fraternity brother/serial rapist. Main character's vivid memory of a sexual assault when she was 12. Magical rites that include a surgery on a kidnapped mental patient and the voluntary slitting of wrists -- both people survive. A mention that these events are common and not everyone does survive. A stabbing murder. Attacks with a baseball bat, fists, knives, bludgeoning objects, vengeful ghosts, and jackals resulting in deaths, multiple injuries, and devoured souls. Some gore described, including hitting a head with a baseball bat and "chips of skull and brain flying" and a broken leg with bone visible. An intentional drowning and a death by drug overdose.


Flashbacks include sex with not much described and a blow job for favors. Mentions of main character seeing lots of "ghost d--k" from a young age. Sometimes playful, sometimes harsh banter and innuendo around sex. Nonsexual nudity.


There's everything here and large helpings of it, especially sexually charged language like "f--k" and "ass." The main character is the crassest, spouting phrases like "brother f--king hillbilly."


One-time mentions of foods like Pop-Tarts and other brands. Repeated mentions of Chesterfield cigarettes and Mercedes.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drugs and drug dealing in main character's past with mentions of her being high in early teens and a friend overdosing on fentanyl. At Yale, drug use, heaving drinking (with mention that roommate was going to get "s--tfaced" on Peppermint Schnapps) and drinking of wine at parties and with friends, sometimes to excess. As at all college campuses, most of the undergrads are underage. A (magical) date rape drug, a grandpa smoking cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Ninth House is the first book for adults by popular young adult fantasy author Leigh Bardugo (The Grisha Trilogy, Six of Crows, Wonder Woman: Warbringer). Her teen fans will know about it -- it's marketed to them as well. If you have an older, mature teen reader already well versed in R movies with lots of mature content, this may be OK for them. There's a whole lot of drug use (the main character was a former user and dealer and her best friend died of an overdose), sexual content, and violence, especially jarring sexual violence with a date rape drug and a video passed around to add to the humiliation. A mental patient is kidnaped and cut open for a magic ritual. People are injured and die in gruesome scenes, including a stabbing and the bludgeoning with a baseball bat (described with "chips of skull and brain flying"). Language stays pretty salty as well, with frequent use of "f--k" and lots of sexualized banter, some tame and some cruel. The main character, Alex, had a difficult past and uses the tenacity she's developed to seek justice for those wronged, and she's pretty merciless about it. If this is not a fit for your teen just yet, try the similarly themed Truly Devious and Shades of London series, both a bit tamer, and both by Maureen Johnson.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byBmaddox11 December 4, 2019

Great book for adults, Not teens.

I am one of the biggest Leigh Bardugo fans there is. I take every opportunity to meet her when she is on book tour. Her Grisha series is one of the best High F... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old November 3, 2019

It actually depends the person and shouldn't be judged by age.

Ok, this book was the BOMB, and I definitely recommend it.
Some bloody adults couldn't handle this book, but I personally was ok with it.
I don't li... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byprism_reviews March 24, 2020

Dark, best for older teens ok with violence and sex

The world of this book is dark and intriguing, filled with secret societies and magic rituals. The main character can see ghosts and is inducted into a "ho... Continue reading

What's the story?

In NINTH HOUSE, when Alex nearly dies in a drug den, it turns into her salvation, or so she thinks. She wakes up in a hospital bed with the dean of Yale sitting next to her. He offers her a place at the Ivy League school and at the House of Lethe. Her whole life she's been able to see ghosts -- or Greys, as they call them -- and the House of Lethe needs her unique skill set. Alex's Lethe mentor is Darlington, a Yale senior who knows how all the magical societies on campus work, what specialized and often bloody rites they perform, and how to oversee them so everything is safe and secret, and all the Grey energy that surrounds them is contained. Darlington doesn't have long to teach Alex before he disappears and she's told to cover it up. Just like she's told to look away when a woman from town, a drug dealer, is stabbed to death near campus. But Alex can sense this is a cover up as well, and the deeper she digs, the more trouble she courts -- from Yale's secret societies with too much to lose, and from enemies on both sides of the Veil that she can't even fathom.

Is it any good?

This phenomenal and mature adult debut from a popular young adult author Leigh Bardugo is more twisty-turny-absorbing mystery than spine-tingling ghost story. Half the time, the ghosts that main character Alex see are just a nuisance to deal with. She's been bothered by the "Greys," and sometimes harmed and harassed them, her whole life. She forms a bond with one ghost, reluctantly, to solve a crime she knows the university is covering up. The more she digs, the more fascinating the story gets. It takes the reader in myriad directions: to many of the secret societies, a frat house, a prison, a drug den, a professor's salon, a warded safe house with a magic library, and even on the other side of the Veil. And the whole time she's missing her mentor, the gentlemanly and chivalrous Darlington, who's disappeared. What happened to him could be even worse than what she imagined, and is yet another intriguing layer of Ninth House.

Without Darlington, and with constant threats around her, Alex has no choice but to cast off her new Yale persona she's tried so hard to cultivate. It may help her fit in, but it's the grit and resilience she learned in her drug dealing years that will save her now. This Alex is reckless and impulsive and gets things done. Readers will be scared for her every minute as the pages fly by.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can discuss the campus sexual assault in Ninth House. What's been in the news about similar scenarios (minus the magic elements)? How do the universities respond? How can teens heading to college protect themselves?

  • What happens with the video of the sexual assault? How does it spread? Are there videos of humiliations that you've seen? How can you stick up for someone in that situation?

  • Will you read more in this series? What do you think is next for Alex?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy and ghost stories

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