In the middle of a dense forest in Maine lies The Institute and if you didn't know it was there, you're one of the lucky ones. Hundreds of thousands of children go missing in America each year, most can be accounted for but what about those who just disappear with no trace? Secret experiments, kidnapping and murder could be the answer, but no one will ever find know. However, Luke Ellis was about to blow the whole conspiracy wide open. He's a child prodigy with early acceptance to two high-end colleges in America at the age of 12 but his life is turned upside down overnight when he is snatched from his bedroom and wakes up in The Institute. Scared and upset that his life may be over, he can only rely on the help of the other children and a housekeeper to get out of there.
Stephen King has been on my TBR pile forever but I've never ended up picking any of his work up for fear of being let down after all the hype. For October I decided to bite the bullet and do a read through of the Stephen King novels I have managed to accumulate as a "spooky" theme for the month.
I was surprised that this book started off with a character we then don't see or hear about again until nearer the end of the book. Initially it threw me off, expecting him to pop up but he didn't, and then on his reintroduction to the story I had to work hard to remember if this was the same character or not. Despite the slightly confusing effect this had on me I enjoyed all the characters, each had their own personality within the first few lines of meeting them. Characterisation I have heard is one of King's strongest features as a writer and this did not disappoint, each character grew on me steadily and I was empathising with them at every stage.
We are all aware of the sometimes unlawful and odd behaviours of the American system but the reasoning behind the mystery of The Institute was something I can almost believe is happening behind closed doors. Does that say more about me or society? At this point of the story, when we find out why they do what they do, there is a moral dilemma. The age old question of, do you save the few or the many? I don't think it gives too much away that the characters we are rooting for are choosing "the few", the bad guys are choosing "the many" specifically at the expense of "the few". The whole reasoning behind The Institute is that they could prevent global disasters or events that would damage society as it currently stands, but would we accept that at the expense of children's lives? It didn't sit comfortably with me that this was happening but I could see the reasoning behind it. King manages to make me feel uncomfortable about my own decisions as well as the characters' in the book, but I guess this is the point. Would we really exploit thousands of child workers to help the billions of people unknowingly saved by their work? Are we already doing so?
Thought provoking and intriguing are the only words I could use to describe this read. I didn't want to put it down in most parts because the story just kept going so strongly that I had to know what happened next. It lulled in some places where I wished it would have picked up. Sometimes it changed focus just as the plot was thickening with certain characters but this mostly kept me reading just so I could find out what happened to them. I would recommend this to specific people, there are a few parts that are uncomfortable and it isn't an easy read when we have to focus on child abuse and in parts, torture. If you feel that you could handle reading that then this is a brilliant book to sink into. The characters are well-rounded and develop at a steady pace and as predicted the writing is incredible. I didn't find myself wanting to word things differently as I read which is a bad habit of mine. I did find that the use of swear words was done well (as trivial as it is), they brought something extra to the dialogue and were not overused to the point of desensitisation.
The ending was a tad predictable in the sense of the good guys win but the way it came about meant I was still on the edge of my seat to find out how they'd win. I will admit that I cried, certain characters did not make it into the happy ending and King's ability to attach us to these characters and then rip them away in an air of heroism was outstanding. I didn't feel upset this character had died - I felt proud of how far he had come, of his actions and how he protected his friends.