Sunday, February 17, 2008

Project 17

In Project 17 by Laurie Faria Stolarz, six kids break into an abandoned insane aslyum to spend the night and film their experience.

Abandoned insane asylum?

Creepy cover?

Ghosts and the supernatural?

I'm in.

As soon as I read the blurb on this one, I snatched it off the new book cart. I knew I'd love the setting--a decaying institution for the insane, the ominous Danvers Mental Institution where people were put away and never seen again. If they weren't crazy before they went into Danvers, they were when they came out. If they came out. Lots of people died in Danvers and were buried by the other inmates on the grounds. Danvers was a place of sheer misery and oppression, a place where an embarrassed family could hide away their black sheep and never think of him or her again. But Danvers hasn't been used in years and now the city is getting set to bulldoze the old building.

Enter Derik, budding teenage filmmaker. As far as he's concerned, filming a night spent at the supposedly haunted Danvers is essential to his future. If his reality TV-inspired film wins the contest he's entering it in, then Derik will be saved from a future running his parents' diner. So Derik talks a handful of his fellow classmates into breaking and entering the old institution. His "cast" includes Mimi, a goth girl who has a strange obsession with Danvers; Troy and Greta, a couple from the school's drama club; Liza, a braniac who is bent on getting into Harvard; and Chet, the class clown, whose jokes mask the pain of living with his violent, alcoholic father.

When they break into Danvers, they are immediately freaked out. The place seems alive. And it seems to be speaking to some of them personally. The setting gets creepier and creepier--patient files strewn on floors, disturbing artwork left on the walls, a noose hanging from a closet in one of the old rooms, a baby doll that opens its eyes and talks. Then Mimi finds the journal of one Christine Belle, a teenager who lived and died in Danvers back in the eighties. Suddenly Christine seems to be with them. But what does she want from the kids? What will help her spirit to rest?

I really enjoyed this book. . . right up until the last few chapters. The tension built, the setting was wonderful, the whole feel of the book was very cinematic. . . I can't say I'm sorry I read it, but when I got to the very end, I'd had so much built up in the tale that I wanted a lot more than the author finally delivered. I guess it felt like there was a climatic moment that never arrived. It was set into motion. It was on its way. Then boom, the book was over. This caused me no small frustration. It seems like this book should have been twice as long as it was, that maybe the author had bigger plans for the plot that an editor nixed. Now I sit here, the last page of the book turned, and I think of the ways I'd like to rewrite the ending. I think I wanted everything to be a bit grimmer, a bit less tied together, a bit more suspenseful.

It's difficut to recommend, whole-heartedly, a book whose ending let you down. However, I really enjoyed the journey if not the destination of Project 17. The creepiness is delicious, the back story of Christine Belle allows for more than few shudders, and the sense of impending doom is everpresent. I'd love to see this book optioned for movie rights (I'm sure Stolarz would like that too.) Maybe in the movie version, I'll get the creepier ending I was hoping for. In the meantime, read the book and see if you enjoy it too.

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