By Madeleine Roux
Published on August 20th 2013
Published by HarperTeen
Published by HarperTeen
For sixteen-year-old Dan Crawford, New Hampshire College Prep is more than a summer program—it's a lifeline. An outcast at his high school, Dan is excited to finally make some friends in his last summer before college. But when he arrives at the program, Dan learns that his dorm for the summer used to be a sanatorium, more commonly known as an asylum. And not just any asylum—a last resort for the criminally insane.
As Dan and his new friends, Abby and Jordan, explore the hidden recesses of their creepy summer home, they soon discover it's no coincidence that the three of them ended up here. Because the asylum holds the key to a terrifying past. And there are some secrets that refuse to stay buried.
Featuring found photos of unsettling history and real abandoned asylums and filled with chilling mystery and page-turning suspense, Madeleine Roux's teen debut, Asylum, is a horror story that treads the line between genius and insanity.
Whenever I glanced at reviews of Asylum after reading it, I was really surprised at how much people disliked this one. I didn't think Asylum was a perfect book, but it was entertaining enough and I never really got that "why am I still reading this" feeling I usually get with books I want to give up on. It wasn't entirely what I wanted it to be, but it kept me busy with a minimal amount of eyerolling. The book had a lot of high expectations to live up to, being compared early and often to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, and unfortunately it just doesn't always deliver.
That said, I really enjoyed the setting of an old asylum, now repurposed into dorms for a college campus. The setting alone adds a touch of menace that helps drive the story, and I know I sure would be both fascinated and creeped out by staying in such a place. As creepy things start happening to our main character Dan, we learn more about the asylum and get hints of the horrific things that happened there, and Dan struggles to figure out what is real and what is imagined.
Like I said, the book has a lot of potential but it never quite lives up to it. The characters are all sort of flat and one-note, although there are hints that they could have more depth. Dan had a somewhat mysterious early childhood before he was adopted, and has some anxiety issues. Abby's family seems supportive of her despite harboring some secrets of their own, as well as turmoil between her parents. Jordan's family strongly disapproves of the fact that he is gay. The story touches on these things but never really mines them to flesh out the characters. There are a ton of plot ideas introduced that never really get followed up on, or which get pretty neatly dismissed when they could have been so much more. For example, with what I guess is a mild spoiler, Jordan goes through some wild mood swings and gets obsessed with solving a particular math equation, but this never amounts to anything and doesn't get followed up on.
It often seemed to straddle the line between being more middle grade-leaning, with how simple the writing and the characters were, like it wanted to be scary but not full tilt scary so it went the opposite direction into bland. Here's where the comparisons to Miss Peregrine's really hurt this book. While I've never finished reading Miss Peregrine's--I started reading it once, then let a friend borrow it and have just not gotten back around to it--I remember feeling deeply unsettled by just the first few chapters. Despite Asylum's attempts to be scary, it never quite made it there for me. The ending didn't work for me at all -- this is another book that seems to want to go in a paranormal direction but doesn't commit to it the whole way, so we get a rushed ending that never gets fully explained.
That's a lot of complaints for a book I didn't actually hate. It had its problems, but like I said, it kept me engaged and I never really felt like putting it down and moving on to something else. Unlike other readers, I thought the photographs and interior artwork were intriguing and added to the sinister feel of the story, and I'd be interested to flip through a finished copy, as the ARC doesn't have all of the artwork in it. It's a good rainy day sort of read, something to keep you occupied but not something you're going to think about all that much whenever you're done.