When you think about horror, who is the first contemporary author that springs to mind? For me, it’s Stephen King. The first time I read King’s work was in college, when a friend recommended that I read Salem’s Lot. I found the novel interesting and began to seek out more of King’s work. I haven’t had the opportunity to read all of his novels, but I’ve manged to read quite a few of them. I’ve enjoyed all of his books that I’ve read, with the exception of It. (That particular book really bothered me, and not just because I’m afraid of clowns.)
Stephen King’s The Institute was an impulse purchase on my part. I had gone into Barnes & Noble for a few minutes to browse the science fiction section, and saw a copy on one of the “New Release” tables at the front of the store. While I was looking at the plot summary, another customer walked up to put a book back on the table. When she saw what I was looking at, she said, “I’ve read that one. It’s really good.” After thanking her for the recommendation, I immediately grabbed a copy of the book and went to check out.
The Institute focuses on a boy named Luke Ellis, a wildly intelligent twelve-year-old, who is looking forward to starting college at MIT and Emerson. Intelligence is not Luke’s only gift, however. He also has some minor telekenetic abilities.
Despite the fact that his bursts of telekenesis are largely involuntary, and limited to moving lightweight objects, Luke’s ability puts him on the radar of some very dangerous people. People who think nothing of murdering Luke’s parents and abducting him in the middle of the night. Luke wakes up in a replica of his bedroom, and learns that he’s not the only child who has been taken…just the most recent, and his peers all have similar psychic abilities. He’s soon subjected to a wide range of medical tests and experimentation, all seemingly focused on increasing his psychic abilities for some unknown purpose.
For the most part, I felt like The Institute was a suspenseful mystery (rather than horror). With most of the focus on the children, and their reactions to what happens at the Institute, there were a lot of questions that I found myself asking in tandem with the kids. My own uncertainty about what was going on really added to the suspense.
The horror of this book comes from the way in which the children are treated by the adults. The adults who run the Institute view and treat the kids as acquisitions, experiments, and commodities. With remarkably few exceptions, they seem to see nothing wrong with using abuse and fear to keep their “subjects” in line, which makes them monstrous.
One thing I’ve always admired about Stephen King is his ability to tell a compelling story, and The Institute is just that. I had a really hard time putting the book down, because I needed to know what would happen next. I needed to know if the kids would find a way to escape. If you’re looking for a suspenseful, mysterious read, The Institute is a good choice. Long-time fans of Stephen King will definitely not be disappointed.