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Saturday, June 20, 2009

6 Teens + 1 Night in An Abandoned Insane Asylum = YA Horror At Its Spookiest

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

If you think a crumbling Victorian provides the perfect background for a horror novel, try this one on for size: A sprawling insane asylum, abandoned, but littered with debris that screams of desperation, cruelty and madness. Kind of trumps the haunted house, don't you think? The setting alone makes Project 17 by Laurie Faria Stolarz a sinister little creepfest. Add in a ghost, a freaky talking doll, the whispers of a madwoman, and you've got a recipe for YA horror at its spookiest.

When Derik "LaPlaya" LaPointe discovers that his town's infamous psychiatric hospital is about to be bulldozed, he sees a perfect opportunity. If he can figure out a way to break in, stay the night in the haunted institution, and get it all on videotape, he might just have a shot at winning an internship with Reality TV. That could lead to a real career, one that doesn't involve flipping hamburgers at his family's diner. Now all he needs is some equipment (luckily, he has an uncle in the photography biz), a cast (other than his goof off buddies who would never take his project seriously), and a way to get into Danvers State Hospital without landing himself in jail (a minor issue). Finding stars for his production turns out to be more difficult than planned, but Derik ends up with a motley group of 5, each with his/her own reasons for being there: there's Chet, the redheaded prankster who's in it for laughs; Tony and Greta, the lovey dovey drama rats, trying to be "seen"; beautiful Liza, who needs an extracurricular to convince Harvard to accept her application; and Goth girl Mimi, who has her own agenda. Together, they sneak into the hospital, prepared to brave the night.

It's not long before the creepy setting starts getting to them. Even though the place hasn't been used in ages, the cries of the insane seem to reverberate off the walls. Macabre artifacts like nooses, twisted paintings, and bizarre graffiti send shivers up their spines. But when they encounter Patient #17, it's as if they've opened Pandora's Box. They sense a presence, a presence that wants something from them and won't stop until it gets what it wants. Derik's movie be darned, the teens just want to get out alive.

Although Project 17 isn't all that original, it's still pretty freaky. The story's intense from beginning to end, with a few truly horrifying scenes (I'm not going to give anything away, but the two scariest incidents have to do with a doll and a chair, respectively). Goofball Chet provides some needed comic relief, as do the sweet as sugar drama couple. All of the characters struck me as well-rounded and believable. The relationships that develop between them provide some escape from the horror show, but pretty much, the book's a taut, spine-tingling tale of terror.

While Project 17 had me biting my nails and startling at every noise, I don't know if I truly liked it. It meanders quite a bit, branching out into subplots that never quite develop properly. This is distracting, as is all the swearing and locker talk; there's no sex in the book, but that doesn't stop the characters from talking about it. A lot. The ending is also weird for me - it feels vague and unresolved. So, all in all, the read was just okay for me. It's spooky enough, but its other issues left me feeling unsatisfied. Maybe books like The Forest of Hands and Teeth and The Hunger Games have ruined this genre for me, making me crave horror stories with a little more depth. Who knows? Whatever the reason, this one just didn't quite work for me.

Grade: B-


  1. What a wonderful premise! I love books about insane asylums. Too bad about the swearing though. I can't stand that in YA books. Horror books usually have weird endings but unresolved doesn't sound too great. Think I'll let this one pass.

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