Thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Goodreads: The Project
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date: 02 February 2021
Genre: Young Adult Mystery/Thriller
Lo Denham is used to being on her own. After her parents died, Lo’s sister, Bea, joined The Unity Project, leaving Lo in the care of their great aunt. Thanks to its extensive charitable work and community outreach, The Unity Project has won the hearts and minds of most in the Upstate New York region, but Lo knows there’s more to the group than meets the eye. She’s spent the last six years of her life trying—and failing—to prove it.
When a man shows up at the magazine Lo works for claiming The Unity Project killed his son, Lo sees the perfect opportunity to expose the group and reunite with Bea once and for all. When her investigation puts her in the direct path of its leader, Lev Warren and as Lo delves deeper into The Project, the lives of its members it upends everything she thought she knew about her sister, herself, cults, and the world around her—to the point she can no longer tell what’s real or true. Lo never thought she could afford to believe in Lev Warren . . . but now she doesn’t know if she can afford not to.
Note: The quotes below are taken from an advanced/unfinished copy and are subject to change in the final version.
TL;DR: Ever since I was blown away by the gripping mystery of Sadie, I’ve been keen to read more by Courtney Summers and so I was thrilled to get my hands on The Project. A book about sisters and a cult? Didn’t know I needed it but I definitely wanted to read it! I’d seen some mixed reviews about the book prior to picking it up so I went in with tempered expectations and I’m glad that I did because if I went in hoping for another book that’d give me the ‘Sadie vibes’ I would’ve been so sorely disappointed. As it is, the pacing ended up being a bit more of a slog than I anticipated but I’m glad that I kept reading and finished it. Also, the cover is STUNNING and I’m loving all the promo artwork and creative content that’s being shared for it!
“Having a sister is a promise no one but the two of you can make–and no one but the two of you can break.”
The story is told from two perspectives and timelines. We have Lo, whose storyline was told in first-person in the present day of the story, and we had Bea, whose storyline was told in third-person and covers the ‘flashback’ portions of the story leading up to the present. The switch in perspectives honestly confused me at the beginning and at various moments throughout the story but I did come to appreciate the clear division of voices that really fit the situations both sisters found themselves in. Bea’s voice came across to me as somewhat hazy and almost dreamlike, as if she was giving herself over to any emotion that would catch her and let it sweep her away, which I think embodied the vulnerability of her state of mind caused by her grief. In contrast, Lo’s voice was very raw and on-edge which fit her angry and lost persona that she clearly still struggled with years after the accident. Where Summers really excelled was in her portrayal of the sister bond. She captures just how messy the relationship between sisters can be with feelings of jealousy and resentment but also unbounded love and devotion. These two loved each other fiercely but also feared that love, and in the end it did lead them down a toxic and devastating path.
“When I think of Bea, I think of a girl held hostage by both her grief and the people who took advantage of it.”
That said, although I could empathise with both, I didn’t feel any particular attachment to either of them and the same could be said about the other characters in the book. This was also influenced by the fact that I felt the same way about the book overall; like it was just “okay” and I felt indifferent to it. Where the story felt most underwhelming to me was the plot. It’s not the fact that it was a slow-burn mystery, because I do enjoy those, but as the story plodded on I didn’t feel any pull to it. I read because I wanted to see what happened but I didn’t feel invested in the outcome. In fact, I was able to predict major parts of how the plot would unfold and so that element of surprise wasn’t there for me, but I kept hoping that there would be something MORE–like a bigger or more impactful event. I admit, there were small moments when I questioned whether The Project was really “that evil” because of how softly Summers came at it, and maybe her point was to show how they slowly work under your skin before revealing their ugly, so kudos to her for doing that. Still, the bigger and more realistic (pessimistic?) part of me never doubted that Lev was super creepy and that their front of “we’re just trying to help people who need it in the name of God” was a load of bull.
“I can’t stand it, anymore, when people touch me and I find it hard to explain. It’s not because I don’t want to be touched. It’s because I do–so much–and I’m afraid I’ll give away what’s left of myself to feel less alone. I already did it once.”
Ultimately, while there were elements that I appreciated about Summers’ writing and characterisation, I found the pace too slow and the plot a little too underwhelming and it didn’t have the punch that I hoped for. I’m glad that I read it though and I’d still look forward to trying other books by Summers in the future!
Have you read The Project or is it on your TBR?