Thanks to Scribner for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: September 10th, 2019
Synopsis: In the middle of the night, in a house on a quiet street in the middle of suburban Minneapolis, intruders silently murder Luke Ellis’s parents and load him into a black SUV. The operation takes less than two minutes. Luke will wake up at The Institute, in a room that looks just like his own, except there’s no window. And outside his door are other doors, behind which are other kids with special talents—telekinesis and telepathy—who got to this place the same way Luke did: Kalisha, Nick, George, Iris and ten-year-old Avery Dixon. They are all in Front Half. Others, Luke learns, graduated to Back Half, “like the roach motel,” Kalisha says. “You check in, but you don’t check out.”
In this most sinister of institutions, the director, Mrs. Sigsby, and her staff are ruthlessly dedicated to extracting from these children the force of their extranormal gifts. There are no scruples here. If you go along, you get tokens for the vending machine. If you don’t, punishment is brutal. As each new victim disappears to Back Half, Luke becomes more and more desperate to get out and get help. But no one has ever escaped from the Institute.
As psychically terrifying as Firestarter, and with the spectacular kid power of It, The Institute is Stephen King’s gut-wrenchingly dramatic story of good vs. evil in a world where the good guys don’t always win.
I may have mentioned that I love Stephen King a few times, but I want you to know that I don’t let my hero worship put blinders on me. There have been some of his books that have disappointed me over the decades Dreamcatcher and Lisey’s Story to name two. However, I’m thrilled to say that The Institute is not one of them. Actually, in my opinion it’s one of his best novels to date and is joining my favorites alongside Carrie, The Shining, Salem’s Lot, The Stand, Misery, It, Hearts in Atlantis, On Writing and 11/22/63.
This is going to be a fairly short review because I’m determined not to let any spoilers slip, but there are a few things I’d like to share about why I loved this story so much. Part of why I love Mr. King’s writing so much is his characters. Some of his biggest monsters have been all too human ones: Annie Wilkes from Misery, Henry Bowers from It and Big Jim Rennie from Under the Dome. These are all “regular” people who wind up being just as terrifying as King’s supernatural creations like Pennywise and Randall Flagg. This is the case with Mrs. Sigsby and the other evil masterminds running the Institute. They may try to tell themselves that what they’re doing to the children they kidnap is for the greater good, but make no mistake, they’re sadistic, evil bastards. (Sorry for the language!) While I was reading all I wanted was for them to die in the slowest, most painful way possible. In stark contrast are Luke and the other children. King does an absolute brilliant job capturing their minds and voices. Each personality fairly leaps off the page fully formed which makes what is done to them even more horrifying. Avery, at ten-years-old, yet the most powerful with his gift, just about broke my heart. The other main character is Tim Jamieson, an amicable everyman who finds himself in a small southern town filled with some interesting people. Seeing how Luke, who is trapped in Maine (It’s Stephen King. Where else would a sinister shadow government be kidnapping and torturing kids?) and Tim are ultimately brought together is captivating, and I literally could not tear myself away. The only reason why it took me five days to read this is that I found myself having to take breaks because I became too emotionally involved in what was happening to the kids. It was either that or I was going to throw the book across the room because I kept getting so angry.
The Institute is the perfect example of how, over the years, Stephen King has gone from a horror writer to a genre-defying one. While clocking in at almost 600 pages long, not one single word is wasted in what amounts to in my mind, a perfectly crafted novel. The mystery behind what the Institute’s true motivations, is drawn out through the course of the story and further adds to the pulse-pounding suspense. I guarantee that Constant Readers are going to be thrilled with The Institute, particularly if you love some of King’s other adolescent heroes from previous books like Firestarter, The Body, and It. And if you’re new to Stephen King, or even have mixed feelings about his writing, but you enjoy horror, science-fiction and conspiracy thrillers, I highly recommend you give this a try!